Human Condition: Listening through the big circle

As a child, I spent my Sunday mornings either in the simplicity of my parents’ Quaker meeting house on Long Island or in the splendor of my grandmother’s church — St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Perhaps it’s that wild contrast that makes me comfortable seeking the Inner Light while focusing on an outward image.

When I joined the Unitarian Church in Baton Rouge, the big circle window became my external focal point. It’s not that I’m not listening to either of our excellent ministers; it’s how I listen.

The view through the circle window is not breathtaking. The great oak tree not especially beautiful. My artist’s eye is offended by the several telephone lines that run across my view. There is also a light pole to the right. Then there’s that glass line smack down the middle of the window, where the two huge panes meet.

But over the years and the many seasons, I have pondered many sermons while viewing these things, always seen differently depending on the weather, light and season.

That tree will never star on the cover of Southern Living, but it’s lived through some tough seasons and still leafs out every spring. It’s my personal symbol for the wedding vows Alan and I took in this church. That tree has visually steadied me through some tough memorial services for loved ones and such terrifying events as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

When the Rev. Steve Crump reminds us of our responsibilities to work for social justice, those visually unappealing telephone wires remind me that our lines of communication must be kept open, no matter how uncomfortable it may get. When the Rev. Nathan Ryan speaks about the interplay of the sacred and the profane, I focus on how the circle window frames a cross made of nature (the tree) and technology (those darn wires). Apparently, I meditate best with my eyes open.

The window itself presents a wonderful meditation on the eternal, on the circle of life, and on the social and personal boundaries with which we define ourselves. It is a physical metaphor: anyone who attends this church will soon learn the verse from Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted”:

“He drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him in!”

So, in case the ministers catch me gazing out the big circle window, I just want them to know: I’m listening, I really am.

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