Hanging on the wall five feet east of the flat-screen TV in room 4132 there’s a painting. Steps and a rail surrounded by potted flowers and planted shrubbery. This scene, the painter has you seeing it through a rain-streaked window. It’s a soft, comforting image—though no one’s mentioned it. Everyone’s mentioned the flat-screen—how sharp the image; how vivid the color.

Make this painting a photograph, and it wouldn’t be as comforting. A photograph would define the scene too well. One tends to dwell over the meaning of a painting more than one dwells over the meaning of a photo. One is more likely to wonder: Why this scene? Painting is a larger commitment—for, while it only takes a moment to snap a photo, it can take hours to paint a canvas. Of course, via digital means, one can spend hours manipulating a photograph… But doesn’t doing that make the photo more like a painting?

We won’t be satisfied unless we name, define, classify, categorize everything. We must pin it all down. Flowering plants are divided into two major classes—monocots and dicots. Plants in general, you’ve got 260,000 known species of mosses, liverworts, ferns, herbaceous and woody plants, bushes, vines, and trees.

It’s all very, very important to assign value and distinction.

Defining is setting limits.
We need to order everything.
We need to explain and rationalize.

Otherwise, we are helpless.

Once something is defined and categorized we will have power over it—because, then, we’ll be aware and convinced of its limits. Which, incidentally, is why no one religion can pin down God—because you can’t put limits on Him. Or Her. Joseph Campbell suggested that all religions were masks of God. Apparently, he wrote four volumes on the matter. But who reads him?

Earlier in the day, the stairs in the painting were descending, disappearing down into the flowers and shrubbery. Much later in the day, the stairs started climbing upward and away, abandoning all that plant life below. Which way did the painter want your eyes to go, up or down? Or is it supposed to be different every time you look? Or did the painter even care? Would God?

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