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The "Silent Sermons" of St. Louis

Whether we work for it or not, all things must change: “cold things warm, warm things cool, wet things dry, and parched things get wet.”[1]

Jung called this concept of inevitable shift, Enantiodromia. Enantiodromia occurs in individuals as well as societies. An individual’s Enantiodromia often manifests as a subconscious revolt against a person who neglects to acknowledge or nurture an aspect of their being. [2] Societal Enantiodromia occurs when idealist doctrine gives way to materialist concerns, or vice-versa. [3]

Ultimately, this inevitable shifting from one aspect to its opposite is the universe’s attempt to restore a balance; and, humanity, through transcendent art and disciplines, has celebrated and sought after this transition from one form of being or consciousness to another.

This transition, from ethereal to material, masculine to feminine, temporal to eternal, requires death and re-birth, between which is a moment of dark slumber, deep-dreamless-sleep, a disorienting-liminality that is neither here nor there, a dismemberment, suffocation, and a temporary (but potentially extreme) loss of direction.

2020 has been an extended period of Enantiodromia on all levels, and, in an attempt to escape from my groundhog-day existence, I made an impromptu trip to St. Louis to meet with my mentor in Virtual Reality filmmaking: Jeremy Casper. In light of the liminality inherent in the concept of Enantiodromia, meeting with a kindred spirit in the silent darkness of a winter night was rich with meaning, and, though I couldn’t rationalize it, a feeling came over me- an assurance that, despite the violent change, everything was going to be okay.

Over the next day, I would come to realize that in life’s moments of silent darkness, man’s art, and God’s nature, I am reminded that new horizons are just within reach- that this is only the beginning.

The next morning, I stood beneath the dome of the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica and watched the staff decorate for Christmas. As a woman placed a wreath over a banister far above, she radioed down to a man standing next to me. She asked him how the wreath looked, then the man asked me the same question. I suggested that the lights on the right side of the wreath could be readjusted, but the man smiled and told me perfection was not the goal. He radioed up to say that the wreath was good enough. He then explained that imperfections were intentionally designed into the artwork throughout the cathedral (specifically in the Omegas and vine forms) to remind us that perfection is reserved only for God. Before walking away, he said, “everything here tells a story, a silent sermon for those willing to listen.” St. Louis would continue to offer up her sermons.

“everything here tells a story, a silent sermon for those willing to listen.”

My next stop (the Chess Hall of Fame) brought me to Keith Haring’s “Radiant Baby.” Haring’s simplistic and provocative work speaks to the inner child, abandoned or repressed by cruel constructs of “perfect” conformity. And Radiant Baby- “a simple outline of a baby or person crawling on the floor on their hands and knees with lines emanating from them[-] represents youthful innocence, purity[,] and goodness.”[4] For Haring, the child emerging from the darkness of the womb into this brave new world is humanity at its most “imperfect,” thus divine.

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 18:3-4

I carried the concept of the radiant baby with me to the St. Louis Zoo, where I was fortunate enough to see a month-old Emperor Penguin chick nestled between its mother’s feet. The mother honked and waved her flippers at the other Emperors crowding around her still-developing child. This chapter of the chick’s life would be near its protector/nurture until the chick is strong enough to step out of its mother’s shadow and into a radiant light of its own. This chick’s entire life had been a season of slumbering incubation, but it would not be its destiny and is neither yours nor mine.

At the Art Museum, I encountered the Nataraja- a powerful visual representation of Enantiodromia and humanity’s resistance to it.

Shiva, the figure at the center of this piece, is the Hindu “Lord of the Dance-” the “unmoved mover” beyond and within the world’s bliss and pain. Shiva’s right leg crushes down on the dwarf of forgetfulness and rebirth as the world serpent rises to meet the dwarf's eyes. Shiva’s upper right arm holds an hourglass-shaped drum and his lower right arm is in the ‘fear-dispelling’ pose. Shiva’s upper left arm holds the flame of spiritual light and his lower left arm crosses his chest into what is called “Elephant Pose.”[5]

To understand the work’s symbolism, it is helpful to split the figure vertically down the center, forming two semicircles. Shiva’s right half deals with the masculine temporal order of the illusion of waking consciousness, while Shiva’s left half represents the feminine deep-sleep consciousness of eternal release.

This theory is supported by the individual elements of the Nataraja:

  1. The hourglass drum in Shiva's upper right hand represents the first principle of creation: the illusion of time that obscures eternity.

  2. Shiva’s lower right hand has a serpent wrapped around the wrist- representing the “mysterious Creative Energy of God” behind all materializations of this world.

  3. Shiva’s right leg crushes down on the dwarf-serpent combination that represents man’s psychological attraction to the realm of his bondage in unending birth, suffering, and death.

  4. The flame in Shiva’s upper left hand represents the destruction of the created world, that burns away the temporal veil and reveals eternity.

  5. The “Elephant Hand” posture of Shiva’s lower left arm signifies the teaching of yoga: the practice of communion with the eternal. This posture is named after the elephant because where an elephant goes through the jungle, all other animals can follow.

  6. Finally, Shiva’s lifted left-foot bent across the vertical axis is in the posture of release.[6]

Note how the “Elephant Hand” and foot of release reach across the invisible axis from the “eternal left” into the “temporal right.” This crossing over implies that we, through spiritual discipline and practice, can, in this life, move through the material illusion of time into the release of eternity- free from the suffering of life, birth, and death.

Analogous to this figurine is the form and function of the Sanskrit word OM (AUM):

Note how the line-forms mirror shiva's posture:

In the practice of Yoga and the uttering of AUM, practitioners adjust their consciousness so they may enter the Brahmin world of deep-sleep consciousness fully awake- making a full transition from the “temporal right” to the “eternal left.”[7] For, to pronounce AUM is to make the vowel sounds of all possible inflections “not made by any two things striking together.”[8] A represents temporal waking consciousness, U represents dream consciousness, and M represents the Brahmin’s world of deep-sleep consciousness.[9] And, the silence surrounding and within the syllable is undifferentiated consciousness- the seed sound of creation.[10]

My conversation with the Cathedral Basilica staff revealed that her craftsman intended a similar shift in consciousness. Horizontal lines, representing Earth's many layers, run across the pillars on the first level to remind us of our earth-bound humanity. Simultaneously, vertical leading lines direct the eye heavenward to the three-story-tall angels in the dome, transporting the temporal heart toward eternal communion with its creator.

Though conceived by minds of differing faiths existing on opposite sides of the globe, both the Nataraja and the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica celebrate the liminality in consciousness reborn. Haring’s Radiant Baby celebrates the pure imperfections in our being alive, reminding us that we are enough, just for being here. And, the baby Emperor-chick reminds us that seasons of dark slumber, even seasons that turn into years, contain silent sermons that prepare us for our inevitable Enantiodromia into the light.

Works Cited:

  1. Garfield Tourney, EMPEDOCLES AND FREUD, HERACLITUS AND JUNG, Bulletin of the Hist. of Medicine 109, 110-115 (1956).

  2. See J. C. Jung, The Psychological Types, in The Portable Jung, 179-269 (Joseph Campbell ed. 1976).

  3. Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology 214 (1980) ("Swiss democracy in its beginnings, . . . was chiefly administered by . . . men . . . and the basis of the Constitution was a certain number of laws, the main object of which was to guarantee the freedom of the individual, freedom of religion, freedom of possession, and so on. Into this slowly crept . . . another idea . . . a Welfare State, a mother archetype where the State has to care for the health of the people, their material welfare, old-age pensions, etc. . . . [T]he State is no longer a father but has become the mother, and [therefore] is interested in the physical welfare of her children.").

  4. Jackson, The Symbolism of The Baby in Keith Haring’s Work, ArtDependence Magazine, (2019).

  5. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva 56-66 (1917).

  6. Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, 151-75 (1972).

  7. Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By 112-117 (1980).

  8. Id.

  9. Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image 361-362 (1990).

  10. Id.


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