What Do You Value?

One of the windows by Max Ingrand at Saint Pierre de Montmarte

One of the windows by Max Ingrand at Saint Pierre de Montmarte

What has value? What has merit?

Or, here’s a better question: What is value? What is merit?

During our travels I looked at a lot of art and architecture from across the centuries and across many different cultures. There is a very old church, Saint Pierre of Montmarte, one of the oldest in Paris, seated adjacent to Sacre Coeur high on the hill overlooking the city. This ancient church has been outfitted with stained glass windows, designed by Max Ingrand, that I can only describe as cubist. The collision of ancient church and modern window is breathtaking and perfect. The windows were so beautiful (to me) that they brought tears to my eyes. It was hard for me to leave the church as I was so taken by the windows yet I was also aware of the number of people moving through that were not impacted at all. Later, I entered Sacre Coeur and felt nothing. To me, it was impressive, impersonal, and left me cold – yet I watched others catch their breath with its scope and grandeur. They were moved to tears.

Is value purely personal and subjective?

I remember listening to a recorded lecture by Joseph Campbell. He said that you could tell what a society valued by the buildings constructed in the city center. For centuries, churches occupied the village center. Financial institutions occupy our village/value center. Is value an agreement? Is it a focal point of worship? Take a gander at the titles in the local bookstore and you will find that money, morality, spirituality, and success are odd bedfellows. Is a good life richly lived demarcated by the size of a bank account? Tourists in the distant future will visit the holy sites occupying our village center and read placards about what we valued.

Near Sacre Coeur is the cemetery at Montmartre. We descended the hill to the cemetery and walked the paths through the monuments and graves. They fascinate me. They are essences, value statements distilled to a thick concentrate of marble and stone. There are angels and gargoyles, draped figures in repose and riders of the apocalypse. There are statements: loving father, devoted mother. There are roles: composer, writer, soldier, painter, baker, philosopher, politician. The famous are interred next to the ordinary. In a cemetery, all lives are even. Standing amidst the graves I see lives lived, dreams dreamed and realized or unrealized, and I wonder what each person valued during their allotment of days, and what they valued on the very last day.

Value is relative and passing? An extraordinary moment, when conscious, is valuable.

This is from Rumi: Spirit is so mixed with the visible world that giver, gift, and beneficiary are one thing. You are the grace raining down; the grace is you.

Value is grace? You? What surrounds you?

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