Discussion Post for THE LOST ART OF DYING, Chapter 7 Art, Pages 232-233

This image links the notion of ‘shalom’ (written here in Hebrew) to what is described in the chapter as “vandalized shalom.” The glass is composed of fragments, most clearly shattered in the bottom half. The dove, which represents peace or ‘shalom,’ is itself fragmented and inverted. Preparation for death helps to rescue us from vandalized ‘shalom.’

Page 232

Dr. Dugdale’s description of “vandalized shalom” in Chapter 7 is a part of that chapter I did not quote from or comment upon in our previous discussion posts. Here is the most relevant paragraph:

Broken bodies, broken communities, a broken world–a friend of mine calls this “vandalized ‘shalom.'” ‘Shalom,’ the Hebrew word for “peace,” refers to peace in its most robust sense: wholeness, harmony, flourishing. Vandalized peace, my friend says, means not just laboring to build the boat but striving to bail the boat, which has sprung leaks everywhere. Removing a cancerous tumor should bring ‘shalom.’ But vandalized ‘shalom’ means not just having the tumor removed, but striving to stay afloat amidst the complications of surgery, the side effects of chemotherapy, and the frustrations of a prolonged hospital stay.

Page 150

My first thoughts about this image of “vandalized shalom” have to do with the medium of stained glass. As Dr. Dugdale rightly says, “Stained glass can be found in churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship, as well as in cemeteries and funeral parlors” (page 232). But it is also true that the most famous and extensive use of stained glass was in the medieval cathedrals of Europe. One of the most famous and glorious uses of stained glass is the rose window in the north transept of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris:

This window is in a Christian cathedral and its unifying center is an image of Jesus and Mary. It is also a magnificent expression of the wholeness, harmony, and flourishing that, according to Dr. Dugdale, characterize shalom.

In presenting this image of the Notre Dame rose window alongside the modern stained glass rendering in our book, I do not want to turn our discussion into a comparison between medieval vs. modern art. I find it interesting, however, that Michael W. Dugger chose to depict the chaotic brokenness of “vandalized shalom” in a medium famous for images of ordered wholeness.

It seems like the upper two thirds of Dugger’s image does convey peace. If we saw it in color, I imagine it would be a beautiful picture of green and grey valleys, hills, and mountains with a sky of varying shades of blue backgrounding the Hebrew text. What would the lower third look like? Would there be sickly brownish greens or yellows? Would the edges where the pains of glass render the transfixed body of the dove have bloody reds?

In comparing these two images, I also find it interesting how the material between the glass pains functions in the overall pictures. In the upper two thirds of Dugger’s image, the pains of glass are separated by thin lines that seem to serve as transitions between complimentary colors. In the lower third, the separation between pains is wide, with the intervening material emphasizing the devisions between the parts of the dove. In the Notre Dame window, the spaces between the pains of glass are part of the image of an ordered whole. It seems impossible that the eye should focus on the glass without also focusing on the “spokes” that surround the pains and draw them into concentric unity.

In summary, the material between the glass pains seem to serve, in Dugger’s upper part, to facilitate harmony by being minimized, in Dugger’s lower part, to illustrate brokenness by being emphasized, and in the Notre Dame window, to convey unified wholeness by being part of it.

What does this have to do with the spirits of mortal humans doomed to die? Surely, you will find answers to that question that I have not. For my part, I will conclude with a quote from St. Paul that is recalled to my mind by this image of juxtaposed bodily brokenness and spiritual peace.

Although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17

4 thoughts on “Discussion Post for THE LOST ART OF DYING, Chapter 7 Art, Pages 232-233”

  1. Dr. Dugdale refers to a vandalized peace as if to be sick to have peace destroyed. When my sister was diagnosed with MS, she did not talk about her peace being removed. She said that her life was turned upside down. When I think of the stained-glass window with Shalom written in Hebrew, it is like life being broken apart and fragmented. From the outside looking in, I would imagine that it does look like peace turned into chaos. I don’t think that patients necessarily see it that way.

    The second image from the cathedral seems to represent the world as ordered pieces that could be broken apart. In First Corinthians chapter 12, St. Paul talks about the human body as pieces that function together in harmony. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer. When that harmony is broken then peace is broken as well.

    “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
    — First Corinthians 12:26

  2. Of all the pieces of art we have seen, this one is perhaps the easiest on the eye. It’s curious because in a sense, it is a heavier subject, that of the spirit & death. But overall, there is beauty in the image and the discord – defacement, vandalization – only damages some of the image. It is not, overall, an image of death and decay. It is something that is not as it should be, but it is easy to see what would have to be repaired in order to restore shalom.

    I think that is the beauty of reflecting on the spirit, because even as bodies decay further & further, and physical treatments to tackle this decay become more and more invasive, what it takes to restore spiritual wholeness is always achievable, because it is the delay of a relationship. Even as physical health ails, spiritual healing can always be reached: whether a “deathbed conversion,” or closure of some other relational difficulty, or even a good confession.

    Vandalization, unlike total destruction, allows opportunity for restoration.

  3. Vera O – how we see the second half depends on how we see the first half…rather than “see” maybe “perceive” and/or “live”/experience…I thought about how teachers or even clergy sometimes say if you want to look at something diferently, move to a different seat in the classoom or church. You may not change your point of view, but you will definitely leave with a different perspective. Like all the other events in life, preparation helps. This concept of preparation also applies to “death and dying”. … more prep, more shalom and less
    vandalizing…maybe?? I think so….maybe!!

  4. Shalom goes beyond peace to incorporate the coming together of everything that is good. It is a wholeness where all components are in perfect harmony as God created. This stained glass is a fitting representation of shalom, because each tiny piece of glass fulfills its order to contribute to the larger mosaic depiction of peace.

    Rabbi Rick Sherwin writes, “the essential meaning of shalom is pulling together, and the antithesis of shalom is falling apart: the opposite of peace is pieces.”

    Here, vandalized shalom is quite literally the symbol of peace–the dove–smashed into pieces. As the stained glass falls apart, shalom is destroyed. When it is reassembled, it remains corrupted in an inverted posture. Instead of beaming with purity, the dove appears to be lifeless. Our symbol of hope and faith is dead–fragmented, flipped and forced into a position of submission.

    The overall composition of the stained glass is consistent with typical heaven and hell imagery. Shalom ascends to the heavens, shining brightly above the majestic mountain tops. Vandalized shalom descends to the bottom, broken and blighted. We are reminded that evil is not part of God’s original masterpiece. Rather, it is a byproduct of our sins. When we follow God’s will, shalom is in order; when we violate it, shalom is vandalized.

    In Christianity, Jesus Christ is our antidote for vandalized shalom. When the waves become treacherous and we need to be saved, Christ calms the waters with His peace.

    Wishing shalom to all of our readers for a blessed Octave of Easter!

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