Connecting Flourishes: Norway By Way of South Dakota

In Rapid City, South Dakota, USA, on the edge of the Black Hills, in a peaceful green space on the older side of town, there stands a delightfully unexpected structure: a carved wooden church in medieval style called the Chapel in the Hills. It is in fact a replica of the Borgund Church, a Stavkirke (Stave church) built in the late 1100s, which stands in Laerdal, Norway. So what, you may wonder, is it doing here?

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Well, in the 1960s South Dakota native Dr. Harry Gregerson, the creator and preacher of the Lutheran Vespers Radio Hour, was looking for a way to expand his ministry and make something more tangible than a radio broadcast. He decided to build a structure near the Black Hills that could give vacationers a place of pilgrimage and worship. In choosing to make a copy of the Borgund church, he created a link to the cultural roots of the Norwegian Lutherans who settled in South Dakota. The Norwegian Department of Antiquities sent the blueprints of the church and a local construction company spearheaded the effort. The wood carvings were a joint project between the Norwegian master carver Erik Fridstrøm and Helge Christiansen of Rapid City. These fantastic flourishes inspire awe and yet seem quite at home here. Rapid City is right next door, and yet the area recedes into the hills, feeling quite remote and peaceful, an excellent place to meditate. There is also a small Norwegian museum and a stabbur, a small grass-roofed storehouse, that serves as a visitor center. The stabbur was built in Norway, shipped to Rapid City in pieces, and rebuilt here.

 

 

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The flourishes on, in and about the church weave together Christianity with pre-Christian Norwegian symbols. The continuity between the Christian and naturalistic symbolism is both beautiful and striking. It can be interpreted as a refreshing acknowledgement that the same God might choose different ways to speak to different peoples. The first congregants of the Borgund church would have been converted Vikings, with minds shaped by Norse myths and naturalistic rituals.

I: Runestones

Runestones are stones decorated with naturalistic motifs. The Vikings and the Celts were masters at making runestones; many of their descendants Christianized the art form so they could keep their artistic language. These two feature serpents and dragons, symbols of chaotic forces which shape time and nature, ambivalent forces which both destroy and build up. The rectangular, seated runestone on the left shows that time and Creation have been forever marked by the Cross. In the crucifixion, life has also been destroyed and rebuilt. Common themes were important to encourage conversion and promote understanding.

 

 II: Doorways

The entire church is circled by an antechamber/corridor. Weapons were to be dropped in this space and were not allowed in the house of worship. In case you think the Viking converts were progressive, you should know that men and women entered through different doorways and did not associate with each other in the church building. Children entered with the women until the young boys came of age. Young men were then allowed to use the men’s doorway inside the front entrance.

The men’s entrance with intricate carving. More dragons and serpents.

The women’s entrance on the side of the church, featuring carvings of lionesses, a rather ferocious symbol of femininity. Note the lioness faces at the bottom of the pilasters. I imagine these Viking ladies were not wallflowers.

One of the outside doors features a metal ring. In medieval Borgund, any criminal who was touching this ring could not be apprehended by authorities. It was apparently not unheard of for such people to starve to death on the steps of the church, covered in their own excrement.

Inside the church, there is a plain door with no adornments next to a sliding window that opens into the corridor. This was a station for people with leprosy, so that they could take Communion without entering the church proper.

III: A Ship of a Different Kind

The church interior is fashioned as an upside down Viking ship, cleverly using the most familiar of forms, but also turning it on its head. Look at those ominous faces carved on the high posts!

The altar and chancel area stand out for their simplicity. The pan fixed in the front served as a baptismal font.

IV: There Be Dragons

High atop the church building there are four dragons, fashioned like those that would have been at the prow of a Viking ship. In addition to serving practically as aids to drainage, they functioned much like gargoyles, impressing people and “chasing away devils”. The detail and the care that goes into each shingle, each cross, each flourish is absolutely marvelous.

I happened to catch a squirrel sunning himself on the high branches, mimicking the dragons astride the church. Nature seems playfully at peace with this Stavekirke from another land. On another day, in another post, I may take you on the walkway that leads back toward the hills, where the rabbits feed lazily, and the forest is peopled with life-sized stone figures that range from moving to creepy. But for today this magnificent building is more than enough.

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All images by Katherine McDaniel, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Quote for Today: Martin Seligman

 

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I think you can be depressed and flourish, I think you can have cancer and flourish, I think you can be divorced and flourish. When we believed that happiness was only smiling and good mood, that wasn’t very good for people like me, people in the lower half of positive affectivity.

Martin Seligman, in an interview with Psychologies, 2011

Image: Toni Frissell, Frida Kahlo seated by an Agave, Vogue, 1937 (public domain)

The Flourishing Soul of Flamenco

The word flourish signifies not only rampant growth, but a gesture or set of gestures that personify vitality and life. That gesture may be expressed in words, carpentry, architecture, music, dance, cooking. There is no pursuit known to humanity that cannot be executed with flourish. One of the most striking exhibitions of this creative gesture is in the music and dance style known as flamenco.

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Flamenco’s origins lie in Andalusia with the Roma people of southern Spain, known as gitanos. The ancestors of the gitanos came across Europe and north Africa from northern India and were known pejoratively as gypsies. It is no accident that this vibrant celebration of life and passion came from a people who were persecuted and denigrated. The subject matter is often painful and dark, presented with an emotional intensity and controlled artistry that transmutes such feelings into beautiful, cathartic moments.

Flamenco is a musical tradition that flowered into dance. The dancer embodies the anguish and beauty of the singer’s voice, the rhythmic anxiety and ferocity of the guitar. In most traditions, dancing favors the young, with supple bodies that are flexible and strong. Flamenco favors the emotional palette of the mature dancer and it is not unusual for a flamenco artist to dance well into their fifties and beyond. The duende, or soul of the dance will not give itself easily to the dancer who has not experienced the difficulties of life. In a happy contrast, the flashy and spellbinding footwork is likely to keep the dancer in shape for many years.

This video is from the documentary, Flamenco, Flamenco by Carlos Saura. It’s a beautiful documentary you should check out when you have the time.

The form above is alegrías, or “joys”, a particularly fast paced style, or palo, of flamenco in twelve-eight time, with accents on beat 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12. As the strong beats get closer together in the second half of the bar the rhythm pushes forward with a tense agitation. The dancer is Sara Baras, who has toured the world as a soloist and as the lead dancer of her own company. She has also appeared as a model in London, Madrid and Lisbon, and been featured in Mission: Impossible 2. When she was younger, teachers complained that her feet were too loud, but their percussiveness is a strength and hallmark of her particular gift. Both Sara and her dancing exemplify the meaning of the word flourish in all its shadings.

Sara is a native Andalusian, but it should be noted that, during the Spanish recession, the flourishing of modern flamenco has been sustained and enriched by people from other lands, among them northern Africa, the United States and Japan. It seems fitting that its Roma roots have been extended back out into the global sphere. They carry with them a very important message: We do not flourish when life is easy; we flourish when we surmount our difficulties.

Quote for Today: Lao Tzu

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If the Great Way perishes there will be morality and duty. When cleverness and knowledge arise great lies will flourish. When relatives fall out with one another there will be filial duty and love. When states are in confusion there will be faithful servants.

Lao Tzu

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

 

Quote for Today: Richard Preston

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Redwoods flourish in fog, but they don’t like salt air. They tend to appear in valleys that are just out of sight of the sea. In their relationship with the sea, redwoods are like cats that long to be stroked but are shy to the touch. The natural range of the coast redwoods begins at a creek in Big Sur that flows down a mountain called Mount Mars. From there, the redwoods run up the California coast in a broken ribbon, continuing to just inside Oregon. Fourteen miles up the Oregon coast, in the valley of the Chetco River, the redwoods stop.

Richard Preston, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring

Image © Theo Crazzolara in Redwood National Park

Quote for Today: Nelson Mandela

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Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference. Religion, ethnicity, language, social and cultural practices are elements which enrich human civilization, adding to the wealth of our diversity. Why should they be allowed to become a cause of division, and violence? We demean our common humanity by allowing that to happen.

Nelson Mandela, Global Convention on Peace and Nonviolence, New Delhi, India, January 31, 2004

Image: Diversity Mask © George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, Joplin, Missouri, USA

Returning with Flourish: Growing into 2018

After eight years marked by three floods, my husband and I are thrilled to announce we have a new home. We are reunited with our cat companion, the furry fat man we call Yuri. I love watching him find all the new spots where he can lounge and spy. I’m attaching a “Yuri around the house” gallery at the end of this post for your enjoyment.

It feels amazing to be together again. It also feels wonderful not to have to rebuild a home. We did that twice, almost finishing the second time when Harvey brought the third flood, a staggering four foot and eight inches of water. There are always things to be done in any house, but it is all “elective surgery” now, as my husband says. At the end of the work day I’m always excited to go home; I want to pinch myself to make sure it is real.24297259_10155650613650795_2110016814409596287_o.jpg

The home on Pagehurst was sold last December. After repeated floods crowned by the one Hurricane Harvey brought, the old street is now owned largely by investors hoping to flip and sell. The houses are shell-like and dead, waiting for someone to care enough to start remodeling. The process is slow; not many homeowners have stayed and one wonders how wise an investor is to buy multiple homes there as several have done. We are a few miles away, in a place with better than average drainage for Houston, some twenty feet, give or take a little, higher. It rained heavily here last week, and I could look out my window and see the street. No water in the yard at all. Rain still produces an anxiety in me, but it is a vague discomfort. In time, perhaps that will fade.

I am so excited to return to normal. For me, that means a return to creativity, to being able to have the space to make things and the leisure to read, attend events, and feel human again. Well, I’ll get out of the house more once we finish building all of our new furniture! It means I can return to you, friends, and to making the kind of environment that helps the mind and spirit to flourish. The themes for the next few months have been provided by some of my Facebook friends. They are things I hope we can all cultivate and share together. Flourish is the first of 34 words that we will explore. If you would like to contribute a word to that list, please don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments. See you around!

Love,

kat

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Quote for Today: Chinua Achebe

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He knew that he had lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administered justice in the clan. He had lost the chance to lead his warlike clan against the new religion, which, he was told, had gained ground. He had lost the years in which he might have taken the highest titles in the land. But some of these losses were not irreparable. He was determined that his return should be marked by his people. He would return with a flourish, and regain the seven wasted years.

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Image: Protective statue, Mambila, Nigéria © Siren-Com with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Howard Thurman

Exhibition Diversity Art The Palm Of Your Hand

One day there will stand up in their midst one who will tell of a new sickness among the children who in their delirium cry for their brothers whom they have never known and from whom they have been cut off behind the self-imposed barriers of their fathers. An alarm will spread throughout the community that it is being felt and slowly realized that community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them–unknown and undiscovered brothers.

Howard Thurman, The Search For Common Ground : An Inquiry Into The Basis Of Man’s Experience Of Community

Image: Diversity Art the Palm of Your Hand, International Finance Center Seoul, Korea via MaxPixel.com