Sunday, November 15, 2020

Psalm 122: Looking Up

To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David. (Psalm 122:4-5)

They go up. Up to the Temple and up to Jerusalem. Up to give thanks to the name of the Lord. What is it about "up"? 

How often do you look up? We probably more often look down in the course of daily life. Down to watch out feet and make sure we don't trip. Down as we tap out text messages on our phones. Down at the computer keyboards on our desks. Down as we prepare a meal on a kitchen counter or stove. When we are ashamed or embarrassed, we tend to lower our eyes. As humans we are bound to the earth. 

So when we have (or take!) the opportunity to look up, or when we are compelled to look up, something different happens to us. When we raise our gaze, we see things differently. Looking up changes the angle of our chin and neck as well as the angle of the eye pupil. Looking up lets more light onto the whites of our eyes. Lifting our eyes (and heads) automatically opens our chest a little more. There is evidence to suggest that raising our gaze, which focuses us beyond the here and now, also gives us a shot of dopamine, that neurotransmitter that is part of our brain's reward system. 
Interior of the Florence Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore). 
Detail of Giorgio Vasari's dome (Last Judgement). #iCathedral completed. c. 1357.
Designers of cathedrals may not have known about the dopamine, but they knew that something happened when people walked in to a massive space and looked up at the ceiling or dome. Here, the Florence Cathedral draws your attention upward. In the dome are frescoes painted to look like even more layers of clouds and figures, extending up and up and up like layers of cake and frosting.

Architects of today's giant buildings with massive multi-story foyers understand it. The tops of trees must know it, tempting us as they do to gaze into their uppermost branches, outlined against a blue sky. Around 2014, the American Institute of Architects began a campaign called #ilookup. Viewers were invited to submit images and videos showing what they saw then they looked up: architecture, nature, a mix of the two.

It's too distinct a line to actually draw, but ask yourself if you'd rather be a navel-gazer or a star-gazer. Perhaps it's both. If you've never thought about it and have, by unintentional practice, a navel-gazer, give the stars a try. Just look up. 

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook, even up-per.

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