The Shifting Image of God

December 7, 2015

Lee Yongbaek, In Between Buddha and Jesus, 2002 (Asian Art Museum, Seattle)

Lee Yongbaek,
In Between Buddha and Jesus, 2002
(Asian Art Museum, Seattle)

In a whirlwind visit to Seattle several weeks ago now, I was able to visit the Contemporary Korean Art exhibit at the Asian Art Museum. This particular work by Lee Yongbaek not only sucked me in at first look, but it drew me back into the exhibit for a second. My son too, as you can see.Lee4

As you stand and look at the mirror, you see images of sculpted heads flicker and morph in the middle of a dark, seemingly three-dimensional space. The heads are easily recognizable as Buddha and Jesus, sculpted by other artists in other times, although they sometimes shift from one to the next so quickly that you can’t see them distinctly.

The work is not hard to understand, at least on a basic level. Here, east meets west. Lee points to the tension between two gods that sometimes exist at the extremes of cultural difference, but by conflating the two, he puts them into a symbiotic relationship, like conjoined twins or some sci-fi double being. In this way, he explores the cultural divide by bringing them intimately close.Lee2

But that’s not what grabbed me. Even as the heads change rapidly from one to the next, there are moments when a head lingers for a few seconds—as if suspended or caught—and then it twitches before finally morphing into the next. It feels like it is trying to hold on, but it just can’t.

In those moments, it seems as if there is some sort of glitch in the system—something is not working—like the smooth flow between the two divine beings has been interrupted, disrupted, obstructed. It reminds me of the holodeck on Star Trek when something in the hologram “twitches” and Captain Picard knows that something is not right. Lee5

Lee seems to be giving away the ruse. Sure, he’s merging these two gods together in order to suggest that perhaps they are not so different after all. But he seems to admit that this vision is just that—a vision. It’s not real. It can never be real. It will only ever be an illusion … like a hologram.

To push this a little further, it’s not just the vision of a harmonious religion that is tenuous here. The images of each god are fundamentally unstable. Even when the image lingers for a few moments, it eventually gets pulled into the next.

Lee3In other words, the images repeatedly lose their integrity—as images of the divine ought to do. An image of a god is not the god they represent. An image is always limited, always contrived. And yet we hang on to those images. Sometimes desperately or even zealously.

This time of year—Advent—I am so aware of the use of images to encapsulate the birth narrative of Jesus. Some images can be powerful, others painfully trite. Either way, it’s all too tempting to let the images be the story. It’s hard enough already to keep from reducing Christmas down to a few lovely sentiments, pictures of Mary, Joseph, and a cute little baby don’t help.

Perhaps this season, I will try to look at images in order to see through them. I don’t mean this in a cynical sense (although my propensity for such things could lead me there…bah, nostalgia, consumerism, and sublimation!). Instead I could look for ways that images point toward the depth and richness of the narrative and the theology of the incarnation, maybe even in spite of themselves.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Renaldi, Touching Strangers series, 2007-present

Richard Renaldi, Touching Strangers series, 2007-present

I’m looking backward again. While in Chicago last summer I visited Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” exhibition at the Loyola University Museum of Art. This series has gotten a lot of attention and I’m still mulling it over.

Renaldi

On the surface, the idea is an easy one: Renaldi asks people who have never met to pose in an intimate way—as if they are a couple, family, or close friends—and then he takes a photograph.

Okay … but there are a lot of (mostly unanswered) questions here. How did he approach them? When the participants are in a private space—like a hotel room—how did he get them there? How did he pick them? What did he say when he first approached them? Did they decide how to touch or was there some coaching? If so, how much?

Renaldi-2

Renaldi

After a little digging, I did find a answers to the last couple questions. Apparently, Renaldi did make suggestions to the participants—like to flirt or even kiss. This makes sense if you’re a photographer wanting interesting photographs. It makes less sense if you want to really explore the connection between touch and relationship, which was the series’ ostensible reason d’etre.

In fact, after looking at the first half-dozen photographs in the gallery that day in June, I found the basic interpretation of the project to be all wrong. I had read that Renaldi is using touch to make spontaneous and fleeting relationships between strangers. I don’t think so. He’s just asking them to touch, and touching does not necessarily mean a relationship has formed, even a fleeting one.

Renaldi-3

Renaldi

This demands a little interrogation. For some photos, you could say that the subjects performed relationship because they got into it and acted like they were in a relationship. Or, you could say that the relationship he created was “two people who participated in this artist’s project.” And maybe for a few of the photographs, the brief interaction did lead to a real connection between of the participants. But as a whole, these photographs are not about relationships in any meaningful sense of the term.

Now, despite this criticism, I think this project is fascinating—just not for the reason Renaldi and others have proposed.

Renaldi-4

Renaldi

As I walked around the gallery, I was struck again and again by how the subjects dealt with the issue of trust. To participate, they had to trust each other and they had to trust Renaldi—and all the more so because they were directed to pose in intimate ways. To shake a hand is one thing, to kiss or even hug is quite another.

Renaldi-6

Renaldi

For me, each photograph became a study about how different people react when this kind of trust is requested or even demanded of them. For some, they throw themselves at it, as if the best way to trust is to pretend there’s nothing at risk. For others, they tense up and exert their will over any fears. Others seem to be comfortable with the scenario—as if they have a natural trust in people, even strangers.

Maybe this has struck home because I have young children and the idea of “stranger danger” is everywhere. My mama bear instincts flash when someone I don’t know even talks to my children, let alone touches them. And yet, I don’t want my children to grow up always keeping strangers at arm’s-length. I want them to reach out. I want them to practice hospitality.

There are so many passages in the Bible that stress the importance of hospitality—welcoming strangers, into one’s home, trusting them in order to give them a place for refuge or rest. One of my favorites comes from Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2).

With the refugee crisis growing around the world right now, we can see the relationship between trust and hospitality playing out. There are millions of strangers who desperately need a place of rest and refuge. Do we have the trust to reach out and welcome them? Where is our trust?

Of course, our trust is in God. God calls us to open our doors, to kindle a fire, to prepare a meal… to touch a stranger as if she is family, as if he is an intimate friend.

And when we reach out, we place our trust in God.

I just wish it were that easy.

 

 

Brice Marden
Second Letter (Zen Spring), 2006-2009
(Art Institute of Chicago)

Back in Chicago, back at the Art Institute. This Brice Marden painting caught my eye yet again–perhaps because it seems a little persnickety and simply honest at the same time.

Like many of Marden’s recent paintings, this one explores the rhythm and grace of the line in Asian calligraphy. It flows smoothly and expressively, but it is also tightly controlled. Of course, there are no actual letter forms–not even a hint of one–just lines, just gesture.

That said, to my eye, this painting evokes a map–like the one I would tuck under the headrests from the backseat on big car trips when I was a kid.

But this one is huge. I want to stand back to take it all in. My eyes trace the lines. There’s no single pathway, so my eye meanders, backtracks, loops, and sometimes jumps the track of one line to pick up another.

I move quickly at first–my eye racing through the painting. If I step closer though, I slow down, in part because at close range you can see some underpainting–lines that were once visible but have been erased or lines that have been traced by a different color. Hints of what was once there. Paths have been rerouted, bypassed, reinforced.

This seems like it could be a map of my thoughts these days. Restless, darting, full of energy and persistence, but not really amounting to much. I backtrack, get stuck in endless loops, take crazy turns. And for what?

I appreciate how Marden includes the two bands of color on either side that firmly establish the boundaries. The scramble of lines may push, even lean, against them, but those wide edges don’t budge. There’s some security there. (I wonder if that’s one difference between sanity and insanity.)

But the painting is good for me precisely because it does slow me down. When I force myself to pick a line and trace it steadily, noting the turns and intersections, my eyes slow down, my mind slows down, my breathing slows down. There’s a rhythm I start feeling in my body–first my head, then arms (the gesture of the artist?), then my torso and legs. All moving with the slow pull of the line.

If I was alone in the gallery, I wonder if I would start dancing.

My mind no longer races over the surface, but settles, sways, lifts, dives, and even finds direction … in a line.

Robert Polidori,
After the Flood, 2005

This week, I’ve been working on a conference paper about coffee table books that focus on natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. I understand coffee table books about Glacier National Park or temples of Japan, but disasters? And there are dozens of them.

The ones that are particularly confounding are the ones that are beautiful. The photographs are beautiful, the layout is beautiful, the printing is beautiful. Take this photograph. It shows a bedroom of a house in New Orleans after the floodwaters have receded. The contents of the room have collapsed or shifted and there’s a layer of grime coating every surface. Even the walls above the waterline have blossomed with mold.

It’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess. A soft even light fills the room (thanks to Polidori’s exceptionally long exposure times) and the dirt dulls and harmonizes the colors. Polidori also sets up the composition to create balance (the books on the shelf counterweights the doorway and window) and rhythm (the vertical lines of bedposts and doorframe against the horizontals of the footboard, watermark, and ceiling. This is just one of hundreds of similar photographs collected in Polidori’s book, After the Flood.

Critics are quick to point out that this kind of aestheticization of disaster is exploitative. Here is a photographer who is using people’s ruined lives to make gorgeous images for a beautiful book. The counter-argument, of course, is that the beauty of his images is getting people to look at these ruined lives—people who might otherwise have turned away in disgust.

Aside from the ethics of it, I’m interested in the effects of aestheticization. It puts a filter on the content of image. As a viewer, you may feel like you are getting an unmediated view of the destruction wrought by the storm and flood, but you are really getting something you could not actually see if you were actually standing in the room. For starters, there would not be enough light to actually see everything you see here. Furthermore, because Polidori so subtly incorporates harmony and softness, the content is considerably less jarring—less off-putting—than it would be if you were there. Plus, you’re not wearing an air filtration mask, are you?

Robert Polidori, After the Flood, 2005

Robert Polidori,
After the Flood, 2005

I believe that the beauty of this coffee table book distances viewers from the actual places, instead of actually bringing them closer. (If you’re into theory, I’m borrowing from Guy Debord here.) If you think about it, any photograph removes us from direct experience, but when a photographer uses a particularly aesthetic approach, it further separates the viewer from the reality that is depicted. Reality is mediated. You’re looking at something through those proverbial rose-colored glasses.

The problem here …

When these disasters are thus mediated for viewers, they (we) don’t actually experience them, or experience their actuality. We are removed. Sure, we may feel sad or astounded or sympathetic (I certainly do!), but those responses are fleeting. Close the book, and we soon forget.

And that’s the irony, the books claim to have been produced so that people would not forget, but I think they may actually facilitate forgetfulness by supplying pages and pages of images that encourage and then satiate our curiosity. We eagerly consume and, by the end, we are emotionally tired. We’re spent. We close the book. And that is all.

 

Nick Ut, "Napalm Girl" photo, 1972

Nick Ut, “Napalm Girl” photo, 1972

Now, I’m teaching a unit on war photography. Of all the units in all the classes I teach, this one is the hardest, by far. I find myself breaking into tears at my desk while prepping a lecture.

It’s too much. I hope for the flu or a massive snowstorm so I don’t have to give tomorrow’s lecture. I don’t want to have to wade through hundreds of these horrifying images to find the ones I want to discuss in class. And I don’t want to talk about them. I would rather skip it. They are too hard to look at and too difficult to contend with.

But that’s exactly why I shouldn’t skip it, I know. So here I am.

Susan Sontag, in her Regarding the Pain of Others, has already grappled with a lot of the tough questions about war photography. Honestly, I don’t find her book particularly helpful, but she does get us thinking and that’s a good thing. She asks questions like …

Ronald Haeberle, My Lai Massacre, 1968

Ronald Haeberle,
My Lai Massacre, 1968

What are the ethics of taking photos of war? How about publishing them? Do photographers have the ethical responsibility to document the horrors of war? Is taking or publishing a photo of a casualty war an act of justice or exploitation, or something in between.

What is the responsibility of the viewer? Should we look away out of respect for the victims? Or, should we pay more close attention? At what point do we move from being concerned viewers to simple voyeurs, or the other way around? The saturation of our visual worlds tends to make conscientious viewing more difficult, but that’s no excuse. I do think we need to look and we need to think about what we’re seeing.

Timothy O'Sullivan, Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, 1863

Timothy O’Sullivan,
Field Where General Reynolds Fell,
Gettysburg, 1863

What is the effect of these photographs, particularly the shocking ones? Do we expect that they will actually change opinions about a war? For the first century of war photography, the images tended to reinforce already established opinions about wars (the British were acting heroically in Crimea; Northern soldiers fought and died to save the Union; soldiers on Iwo Jima signified the strength, solidarity, and hope of all America). But with the Vietnam War, we have some suggestion that photos did change public opinion. In that war and the wars that followed, photographers took a no-holes-barred approach, which gave the public back at home a more complicated picture of what was happening “over there.” Perhaps our soldiers are performing acts of courage and self-sacrifice in the cause of justice and democracy, but other things are happening too—things that are difficult, complicated, and often horrifying. The photos force viewers to grapple with these issues. Force me.

So …

Damir Sagolj, U.S. Soldier Holds Iraqi Child, 2003

Damir Sagolj,
U.S. Soldier Holds Iraqi Child, 2003

I look at these photographs and weep. I may be pricked by photo that tells a specific story of someone who has suffered—a father, a child, a soldier, a wife, a prisoner—but it is the sheer magnitude of suffering that breaks me down. Each story I see represents hundreds—maybe even thousands—like it. What are we doing to each other? Why?

How dark is the human soul that we resort to such violence? What is the way out?

I admit I am very pessimistic. I don’t see a way out. I don’t have much hope for a more peaceful future. Perhaps that’s why these photographs are so hard for me. They testify to the fallenness of humanity, and it seems like God is so far away.

Photographer unknown, Syrian Civil War, 2013-14

Photographer unknown,
Syrian Civil War, 2013-14

Maybe that’s the point. We are fallen. It is in our nature to destroy (and in our nature to justify it). We cannot save ourselves from this—it has to be God, in his mercy, who steps in and puts an end to it.

So, I suppose I should get down on my knees and beg for this mercy.

God, please intervene. Do something soon.

Save us.

 

 

Bruce Herman, Miriam: Virgin Mother, 2009 (Collection of Gordon College)

Bruce Herman, Miriam: Virgin Mother, 2009
(Collection of Gordon College)

This painting has been on my mind for a couple years—since I had the good fortune of seeing it in person. The two outside panels are pretty standard motifs—the Annunciation and the Visitation. The middle is all-together different, which is why this work is so compelling to me.

Chronologically, the right panel is first. Here we see the angel visiting the young Virgin Mary to tell her that she is going to give birth to the Son of God. I appreciate how the artist paints the angel. First—and thankfully!—no feathery wings. He is huge and muscular, and yet he seems to try to make himself as unimposing as possible by crouching down and tucking in. With one arm, he gestures up to indicate the source of his message (that is God), and the other arm extends to touch a vessel, which is a fairly standard symbol in such scenes because Mary’s body is about to become the “vessel” that holds God for nine months. Mary also touches the pot. With her hand on the top, she seems to be taking an oath like a witness swearing on a Bible. Somehow, she seems both reticent and confident.

The left-most panel shows a later part of the story. After the angel’s visit, Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth. It just so happened that Elizabeth herself had conceived a child under miraculous circumstances about six months before. When Mary appeared on her doorstep, Elizabeth’s baby jumped in her womb, as if he knew that the Son of God, a mere fetus at the time, was only a belly away.

With the jars between the two women echoing the shape of the swelling (or soon-to-be swelling) bodies, Herman makes it clear that both women are vessels that carry the word/Word of God. Moreover, he aligns their figures to the columns behind, which conveys that the whole structure of the story of salvation is built on these two women.

The most powerful panel, I think, is the middle one. Here we see Mary, overcome by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is moment of conception, or maybe just the moment when it all starts to sink in. The vast expanse of gold leaf above her creates a field of shimmering light. She twists her torso to look up. Her eyes seem to gaze at something beyond this visible world. Her mouth opens slightly as if in wonder. She seems bathed in the light of the Holy Spirit as it comes upon her. (Even I feel compelled to use euphemistic language for this. Too holy.)

After years and years of looking at Annunciation and Visitation imagery, this middle panel helps me look past the doctrine and theology of these events, and to contemplate them as lived experiences. Mary is not just a symbol of faithfulness and piety, she was a real flesh-and-blood, very young Jewish woman. And she had—hands down—the most mind-blowing experience with God. Just think about it. God impregnated her.

When we tell these stories over and over again, especially in clichéd forms like Christmas pageants and precious nativity scenes, I think these narratives start to feel like myths or legends.  I just might print out this painting and tack it on my frig for the month (sorry, Bruce) to remind myself just how astonishingly real these stories are.

A Beautiful Landscape?

February 4, 2013

Michael Kenna, Pond of Human Ashes, Birkenau, Poland, 1998

Michael Kenna, Pond of Human Ashes, Birkenau, Poland, 1998

I saw an exhibit of Michael Kenna’s photographs a couple weeks ago. As I walked from photo to photo, I got sucked into one after another, simply because of the simple, calm, meditative, and beautiful compositions.

But then I got to his images of concentration camps, which are just as calm and beautiful as all the rest. Take this one, for example. There is a strong sense of symmetry and lots of soft gray tones. The soft forms of water and cloud balances the sharp focus of the trees, and the verticality of the trunks offsets the broad horizontal band formed by the horizon and shoreline.  All these things contribute to the beauty of the photo and, thus, the beauty of this landscape.

And that’s what is troubling to me. This is a photo of a pond where Nazi soldiers dumped the ashes of the people that they burned in the ovens at Birkenau. Under that placid surface lies a story of torment and anguish.

Apparently, these photos, like others by Kenna, are supposed to be about history, memory, and place. And I suppose the stillness and softness of the images does draw the viewer into a state of reflection and repose. If we take the time, we might also be drawn into contemplation, imagining if not remembering the events that went on in such places.

But, for me, there is a strong note of discord between the beauty of the images and the horror of the events those images point to. Kenna made all sorts of choices that enhanced the beauty of these places. He could have taken photographs that are stark, harsh, or jarring—photos that make us unsettled or even disturbed, as we should be given what went on in these places. By aestheticizing these places, these photographs seem to gloss over or (worse) make beautiful something that should be ugly.

I suppose there is another way to look at it. An ugly image would likely cause us to turn away. We may get the message, but we wouldn’t spend time meditating on it. By making beautiful images, maybe Kenna hopes to suck us in and keep us awhile, at least long enough for us to feel (really feel) the weight of these places or, perhaps, to be haunted by the image, causing us to look again and again, compelling us to think more deeply about how a place can seem so innocuous—so beautiful—and yet have such horrific stories to tell.

Well, here I am. Perhaps he made the right choice after all.

Lent … Breathing

March 19, 2012

lee

Susie Lee, Still Lives: Exposure, 2010

In Seattle last week, I saw a small exhibition of Susie Lee’s work at the Frye Museum. I sat in front of this piece for only five minutes, but it left a deep impression.

At first, it looks like a big photograph mounted in a light box. It glows. It’s gorgeous. The intensity of the immense dark area makes the light illuminating the figure all the more captivating. Your attention quickly focuses on that person—not only because of the light, but also because of the gentle curve of the bed which rocks your attention back and forth until it settles on that soft grey head. And, if you look long enough, you notice that it’s not a photograph at all, but a video.

You’re watching this older woman as she sleeps hunched over beside a bed. All you notice is a subtle movement with each breath—her body moving up and down as she inhales and exhales. In. Out. In … out … She may not look particularly comfortable, but her slumber seems peaceful and deep.

As I sat and watched, I became more and more focused on her gentle breathing and then I became aware of my own inhalations and exhalations. In fact, my own breaths soon matched hers. We breathed together. In … out …

I’ve noticed this phenomenon before. When I lay close to my husband or daughter when they are sleeping, my breathing falls in sync with theirs. It’s like we are sharing a lung, like we are one body, not two. But it’s more than just a feeling of connection. With my breath in unison with theirs, I feel less alone, my concerns seem less important, my thoughts are less busy. Everything is going to be all right.

What astonished me, sitting in front of this image, was the way the same peacefulness crept over me. I didn’t know this woman; I wasn’t lying close to her; I wasn’t even in the same room. And yet, I felt connected to her physically. Across space and time, we were sharing a lung.

What does this have to do with Lent?

I was thinking about the way that we strive toward sympathy with Christ during these forty days. We give up things, we go to extra services, we add new disciplines—all to help us pay attention to his sacrifice for us. This artwork makes me want to take a different approach entirely. I want curl up next to Jesus and let my breath fall in sync with his. In … out … in … out … Perhaps then I would feel more deeply connected to him in body and in mind, even across space and time. If so, I imagine that I could feel his suffering more acutely, but I suspect that the prevailing sensation would be one of profound peacefulness. Everything is going to be all right, after all.

Julian Grater, Study for Self-Image II, 1987 (

The season of Lent is forty days—a significant number. The flood lasted forty days and forty nights. The Israelites wondered in the wilderness for forty years. And Jesus spent forty days in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. It’s no coincidence that Lent is a season of darkness, trial, and temptation.

This painting is Julian Grater’s Study for Self-Image II, but many people know this image from the cover of Peter Gabriel’s score for Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ based on the book by Nikos Kazantzakis. The movie was very, very controversial, in large part because it suggests that Jesus fell much deeper into temptation than we usually want to consider. Being tempted to display his power is one thing, being tempted to have sex with Mary Magdalene is something else entirely.

But here’s what I appreciate about the book and, I guess, the movie. It takes seriously Christianity’s claim that Jesus was fully human. If Jesus was fully human wouldn’t he have sexual drives like any man? Wouldn’t he be tempted to chuck it all and live a “normal” life—take a wife, have kids, live to a ripe old age? To contemplate the depths of his temptation makes his choices all the more significant.

I think this image is so compelling because it reflects the way deep temptation feels, especially when you know you’re being tempted. It’s a darkness that swirls around you and fills your head—it muddles your thoughts, it clouds your vision, it sucks you in. But there is a burning desire at the center of all that, like the red spot that seems to glow deep within the dense nest of black paint. The possibility of pleasure dances over the surface of your body and the edges of your mind, like those little spindly flowers that follow the contour of the shoulder and brighten the dark areas of the painting. We’ve been there, haven’t we?

On the cover of the album, the image is supposed to be that of Christ. This is the story about his temptation. But Grater has titled it Self-Image, so this is really a depiction of his own experience of temptation. And that’s the point. That’s the wonder of it.

If we claim that Christ understands the temptations we face, then we have to be open to the possibility that he really did experience those temptations. He, too, had to feel the darkness, the confusion, the desire, the burden.

He somehow—and I really mean that—somehow managed to pull out of every dark and deep temptation he faced. I may not understand it, but I’m immensely thankful that he did. Now, by the grace of God, may I find my way out as well.

Once a tree …

February 13, 2012

Guisepe Penone, Tree of 12 Metres, 1980-82 (London, Tate Modern)

When I visited the Tate Modern in London last month, I was drawn to this artwork from across the room. It was monumental, sexy, and wonderfully organic.

As I took a closer look at the place where the tree intersects the base, I actually said out load, “No way!” and dashed over to the label to confirm what I thought I was seeing. Sure enough … the tree was actually carved out of a huge beam, but it wasn’t an arbitrary tree from the artist’s imagination, it was the actual tree as it had looked decades before it was chopped down. In other words, Penone had painstakingly followed one ring of the tree to reveal both the trunk and stumps of branches from one specific year.

At first, I was delighted simply by the idea and the craftsmanship. What a great idea! And how wonderfully executed! The contrast between base and the emerging tree is tactile—rough against smooth, raw against polished. You can sense the massiveness of the saw that was used to cut the beam and also the fineness of the chisels Penone used.

The more I looked and reflected on the work, I was deeply impressed by the care that Penone showed this particular tree. Penone left traces of his process at the point of transition—where we see bold cuts becoming ever more delicate as he approached the ring he wanted to excavate. We can imagine how slowly and patiently he worked, how carefully he treated the tree that he wanted to uncover. It makes me wonder if he came to love this tree.

I know it has made me think a little differently about the wood that surrounds me. Rarely do I see the trim around my house, the lectern in my classroom, the exposed two-by-fours in my unfinished basement as trees. Wood, yes. Organic,maybe. But trees that lived in a forest, saw winters and summers, and grew from saplings to tall firs, oaks, pines, and cedars? Not until now. Seeing this tree revealed makes me wonder what all the trees looked like before they became my chair, desk, table, or floor.

To be honest, my perspective has already begun to shift back to the way I used to see (or not see) the wood in my life, but I am grateful for this insight. I hope that, every once in a while, I will see a beam and imagine the tree that used to be.