Moses and Micrographia

Last week, having a bad day at the beach, I started doing a brain dump with a pencil.  I wrote everything that was making me unhappy on a sketchbook page, in tiny lines that eventually formed a kind of jellyfish-looking thing.  It was so charming (on a purely aesthetic level) that I decided to do one with all the things I liked and was thankful for.  That turned out more floral and curved, and there’s probably something deeply psychological there that I—insert symbol for irony here—don’t have time for right now.

Micrographia are beautiful drawings, made in lines of tiny text.  In the Eighteenth Century and following, Jewish scholars used this method to interact with scripture and meditate on the words.  After they were finished, the drawings hung in European synagogues and homes as blessings and reminders of the promises and requirements of God.

The example on this page, from the Library of Congress’ collection of Jewish art, is a portrait of Moses done in words–the entire book of Deuteronomy, to be exact, and I’m guessing that, if you do a portrait of Moses made up of  Deuteronomy, you gain a whole new respect for both.  You also unite hand and brain in a single purpose, so that the words make sense as words and as a drawing.  It’s a way to work on the thinking and  the words.

Today I’ve been bumming a little, because even with a rewrite, my students are struggling to get out of their ruts.  They tell me that they know what they want to say, but they can’t put it into words.  The default assumption here seems to be that the thinking is fine, but the words have let them down.

That’s backward, I suspect.  It’s possible that the words don’t come because the thoughts are gormless.  It’s true of my own writing and thinking, and I have a feeling I’m not alone.  We need to slow down here and think about things.  I know it’s the Advent season.  I know everybody has 9,765,342 things to do before next Tuesday, but really, it might be worth it to make some tiny text lines of your own as a meditative practice.  When the thoughts line up, the words come.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by The Other Janet on December 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    The thing about the Advent Season, though, and I think Moses (but certainly Elizabeth and her Z) will back me up, is that Advent is truly not about stuff or things to do.

    It is about waiting, listening, and praying. And contemplating. And trusting God.

    Some of the best art I’ve ever seen was from Dianna Hale’s middle school arts program. It was images, as your Moses, represented in word-line drawings. Powerful, particularly when one considers the quiet intentionalism the artist invested in each work.

    This is the kind of thing even we engineer-types can embrace. Like contour lines on a map.

    What a phenomenal meditation.

    I’m in. As soon as I find a pen.


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