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Alex MacDonald

History is Deep and the World Was Created by Others

By | 2017, Europe | No Comments

Traveling through a continent with thousands of years of documented history as a 24 year-old North American causes you to feel small in the right way. We are traveling through these cities (London, Barcelona, Rome, Perugia and now Vienna) which have been here since at least the Roman times and in the cases of Rome and Perugia even further back (Rome was founded in ~700bc).

The theme for our travel term this time is ‘seeing the other’ and really I think this theme is more of a skill or a practice that one takes part in all the way through your life’s journey. Whether at home or abroad, learning to grasp another’s reality, or at least to attempt to imaginatively empathize with their experiences, is so valuable. In this process, of seeing from another’s perspective, in sharing experiences and dialoguing, we are enabled to encounter wonder, depth, worth and excitement anew.

Discovering how artwork, a stroll down a city street or a tour of medieval Italy is meaningful or impactful for someone else in a way that is other than your experience is integral aspect of learning to come to a deeper sense of appreciation. Sometimes, it’s not a thing in and of itself that we find alluring or intriguing, but rather the dialogue, passion and curiosity that surrounds it that we feel drawn to.

This travel term has had many rich and deep points of contact with history. Coming into contact with the ways in which peoples of the past interacted with the world around them (in  building great Cathedrals, vast underground metro systems, communal squares, elaborate statues or tower-houses) and contemplating these past lives together has helped to deepen my desire to know more about the lives of those who lived life together before us. For me, it’s here in this question where ‘seeing the other’ becomes a journey into a great unknown.

As I explore and learn more and more about what people’s lives were like in the past, and who they were, I find that I come to deeper sense and appreciation for where I am now and how the world I’m existing in came to be built. I find that I come to a better sense of who I am and how I am supposed to function in this world that has been passed down to me. We don’t need to be overly nostalgic or lost in the past but we also can’t be historical amnesiacs. We should know, how the society we have inherited was created, otherwise we’re less likely to steward it properly, or hand it on to our grandkids in a respectful manner.

 

Ancient Ruins & the Resonance of Mystery

By | 2016, Asia | No Comments

The ancient ruins of Sukhothai

Staring out at the ruins of ancient Sukhothai, the hot sun stretches down, aggressively upon my back and upon the ancient flats of brick. My mind stretches down, aggressively upon the question of what this place is to me.

The mystery of these ruins taught me something important: the idea of deep history in foreign lands.

In that moment, I understood the metaphor and the symbolic significance of these ruins for me. They were a reminder and a good representation for the unknown unknowns with my worldview and the limited vantage point of my consciousness. They spoke of a knowledge that is not only hidden within the depth of history but also expanded away by the width of the world.

I suppose that’s what I see the goal of philosophy to be: to seek both a deeper and a wider understanding.

In his apologetical work Pensees, Blaise Pascal once wrote that there are two kinds of intellect. One, the precise intellect: “able to penetrate acutely and deeply into the conclusions of a given premise”, the other, the mathematical intellect: “able to comprehend a great number of premises without confusing them”. In summary he wrote that “the intellect can be strong and narrow, and can also be comprehensive and weak”.

The mystery of Sukhothai for me then, has a resonance harmonious to my heart. An ancient and ruined echoing and a calling, to come closer, and deeper, and more into wisdom and into reality. This is the aim of my heart and the goal I went into the Asia trip with: to discover how the widening of my worldview would deepen my worldview.

As I wander through these structures of the unknown, both in my mind and through the park, I’m searching around for photos which have poetic potential.

I scan around and as I widen the view of my lens the image is caught between a frame of a giant tree on the one side and a large stone chedi on the other.

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Two temples. One, a pillar of nature, of God’s intentionality and design within creation. The other, a relic of humanity’s attempt to access God, to access deeper reality. One, the immanence of God. The other, the transcendence. One is reaching up to God and the other down to man and it reminds me, of the importance of those hands meeting.

The space between them reminds me of the dislocation between man and God or between man and a greater reality, and it’s interesting to me, how much this dislocation marks our lives. We’re always seeking and searching and I find, in the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai, an equivalent ruins within me.

A ruins, which represents my philosophy, my searching for a greater reality… because… the tree is already right in front of me. God has reached down and created. He is immanent. And I learn that appreciating the moment and the presence of immanency is just as important as the attempt to seek and search for transcendence within reality. And, through and through, moment by moment, this is what the Asia trip has instilled in me and taught me.