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Sunday
Apr152012

Gazing at Windows

I admit, without apology, that I spend a lot of my time when both traveling and sitting looking at the world go by. It is the moving in the world, the meandering in and through places, books, newspapers, encounters, events, and the sitting in café windows looking at the world which help me see. There is a Czech proverb that describes people who wonder and browse their way through life. It says that such people are "gazing at God's windows."

I first read this proverb as I sat in the window of a café. I did not come upon the Czech metaphor firsthand, but secondarily while reading the novel Slowness by Milan Kundera. I read:

Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk songs, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars? Have they vanished along the footpaths, with grasslands and clearings, with nature? There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor: “They are gazing at God's windows.” A person gazing at God's windows is not bored; he is happy.[1]

I was instantly drawn to the words, and the images they created in me, and felt no compulsion to verify Kundera's claim (he is Czech after all) or to trace the proverb back to its origin. As I sat looking at the world framed by a café window, the metaphor of gazing at God's windows was good enough. In the moment, it sparked my imagination, turned my gaze towards the sacred and enabled me to see the world outside my café window in a different light.

Imagine going through life gazing at the world through God's windows. It would change all that I see. I wonder if God's windows have windowpanes or are "open," which is to say, without clear but, nonetheless, real separations. If I assumed that God Windows offer a view of the divine, or of things with divine quality, or of things framed by the divine, then I must intuitively presume that they would have to have windowpanes. In principle, that is to say from a position of belief, there should be continuity between the worlds on each side of the window, but my heart and experiences tell me that it is not so and my mind insists that if it were so, there would be no need for God's windows in the first place. The very metaphor of divine windows insists they have windowpanes.

My thoughts, sparked by the Czech proverb, had turned quietly to another book which also spoke of windows, The Ruin of Kasch by Roberto Caloasso. And it was the coming together of Kundera and Caloasso that really lead me to the conclusion that windowpanes are necessary. In a section of The Ruin of Kasch entitled "Behind the Windowpane" Caloasso quotes the film maker Max Ophuls:

The person who looks in through an open window never sees all the things that are seen by someone who looks in through a closed window. There is no object more profound, more mysterious, more fertile, more tenebrous, more dazzling than a window illuminated by a candle. What one sees in the sunlight is always less interesting than what happens behind a windowpane.[2]

Putting the two references together – God Windows and a candle behind a windowpane - the idea of looking into a window illumined by a candle touched something deep within my imagination. That touch resulted in a sense of almost painful beauty which became a deep longing to embrace the things of divine quality and to see the world with godly eyes.

The very looking and resultant responses are possible only because of the window and its pane. The window frames what is seen and thus invest what is seen with a certain perspective. The windowpane effects the very experience of seeing and thus invests the seeing with a certain quality. What is seen through a God Window has divine perspective and quality. It is different from that which is seen through other windows. Calasso describes the windowpane of the mind as:

…the surface of a mirror or the transparency of lace...”Behind the windowpane,” the light emanating from persons and things is no longer a light of nature but the radiance of the surface itself: the radiance of Psyche (1994:290-291).[3]

Merging the Czech proverb and the cinematic ponderings of Ophuls and Calasso, we might replace the word "Psyche" for "Divinity."

I am aware that a metaphor denies literalism and to attempt to read it literally will distorts it beyond all recognition. I am aware too that a metaphor laid out, dissected, and analyzed will die. We would wind up standing in the ruins of literalism, as Paul Ricoeur would say, and possible meanings would be sacrificed. So I will avoid both literalism and reductionism.

I am aware that no God Window appears pure and removed from the fact that I am seeing and perceiving. I am unruffled by the knowledge that no God Window is approached in a historical, cultural, anthropological, political, theological vacuum. In fact it is impossible to approach any window offering a view of life outside of or divorced from my personal experience, identity, sexuality, and cultural. Nor is it possible to gaze through a window without influencing the gazing and the window itself by my individual and corporate religious, political, social, and economic realities. It is impossible because no such experience or window exists. From the moment I see and see through the window, it and what it frames are effected by my individual and corporate being, even as it and what it frames effects my individual and corporate being. In fact, the very metaphor of God's Window reverses, if only for a moment, the traditional notion that only God can be the knower and I am must always be the known. The metaphor itself demands that I am the one seeking knowledge and because I look through the window I finally see. The point of looking and seeing is to become the knower, at which point God disappears.

Windows have always intrigued me. A glimpse in a softly lit room while passing by on a dark night will caress my imagination and longings, life seeming somehow safer, or better, or more inviting inside than outside, though it seems so because it is an inside I can only experience through frames and panes. A long and leisurely view through a café  window inevitably changes my perspectives of the world.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger


[1] Kundera, Milan. Slowness. London: Faber and Faber, 1996, pp. 4-5.

[2] Calasso, Roberto. The Ruin of Kasch. Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd., 1994, p. 290.

[3] Ibid., pp. 290-291.

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