The Reality of the Unseen

Featured image: George Inness. The Home of the Heron, 1893.
The Art Institute of Chicago

When I was a teen, I’d often roam my small hometown alone. One autumn, I walked to the town’s edge at sunset. I stood facing a hayfield and, beyond it, a fringe of trees. I watched the sun slowly meld into the horizon.

            As I watched, I saw that the light shone through the trees. The light stood behind and shone through everything. I thought, “That light is god.” It was an epiphany, a sort of panentheistic (all-in-god) awareness. The light pervaded all created things.

            Ever since, I’ve been drawn to paintings of trees in the fading light. A print of Gustav Klimt’s “Beech Forest” hangs above my bed, the ground littered with leaves of rust and gold, shafts of late light illuminating lithe grey trees. George Inness’s ethereal “The Home of the Heron” is displayed above my piano. The sun has set; the world glows, imbuing the grass, the water, and the trees with a dusky gold.

            Inness wanted his landscapes to express the “reality of the unseen.” I know what Inness meant. At the edge of the hayfield, I saw what I saw with my eyes: the field, a line of trees, a setting sun. That was the material reality. The light shining through everything was the reality of the unseen. I apprehended it with my whole being.

             Years later, that insight at the field’s edge enabled me to balance dualities: the material world and the world of the spirit, the seen and the unseen. And it informed my understanding of my husband’s dementia, his presence and absence, his self and not-self.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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