Committing to a Color
Updated: Apr 21, 2021
and what this covenant does for me
I remember committing myself to the color azure. I realize that using the word azure seems pretentious or highfalutin', as my folks would say. However, look it up! Azure is azure and there's nothing but azure to describe it. I might add that my azure is on the indigo end of the blue tone family of colors. Indigo is too purple, though I love it. Cerulean? too green. In some schools of thought lapis comes close. Certainly the stone lapis lazuli features the activity I see in my azure: (re)-evolving, transitioning, brightening and fading, cycling, enriching. In a word: movement.
When I committed myself to the color azure I was alone on the roof of my college freshman dormitory, Clement Hall. I had found a way to access the roof along with a few other adventurers one weekday night. I quickly developed the habit of going up there to watch the sun go down on West Knoxville. This particular fall evening, I was standing there alone thinking about how unremarkable autumn sunsets are in Knoxville. No clouds to break up the stiff sheet of the sky. Just expansive heavens and the sinking sun slowly trundling toward its bed on the Cumberland Plateau after another day's work. The continuous shift from orange to yellow to peach and then to the gentler, subtler colors of pinks and whites, were lovely, but they did not move me. Then, as soon as the sun winked Goodnight, the blue began to slide down out of space.
The rim of the horizon, still flirting with peach, slowly gave way to the approaching tide of early evening. High above me, the darkest of navy. Down by the horizon, a gentle baby boy blue. In the middle, the oxygenated richness of azure. I was lost for many moments in its depths. I was moved.
Here was home. Here was a color I could identify as close to myself as my own skin. Here were the waters of chaos from which I came and the deep ocean of infinity that awaits me. Here was all potential, all fulfillment. Here, the peace that passes all understanding was succor amidst the roil of the traffic and college life below. In the midst of all that movement there was a blessed rest.
Unaware of how long I stood there, I saw the stars beginning to pierce through the upper darker strata of evening. Navy began to take over, and the dark of night would soon follow. I came back to my feet, the legs they grounded, and I hesitated to leave. Dinner was almost over at Strong Hall: "I better get there before they close down." Before I turned to make my way there, I offered my thanks to the azure with which I had shared brief time and space. I promised to look for it again. Azure was my color, and I was azure's companion.
I think it is the ephemeral nature of sky azure that I love. It commends to us the activity of standing there to be its witness and to cultivate gratitude. With no other agenda than to be itself, saturated and undulating, azure ensconces us like a cool, clean sheet wraps around a feverish child, bidding us surrender to comfort and care. The confident calm azure bids us to inhabit leaves little room for busyness or shyness, anxiety or anger. Chthonic, it reminds us that we who now see it are few among many humans over the time of this planet who have offered like adulation.
I want to talk with Guda from 12th century Germany or some nameless Buddhist monk from 5th century Ajanta who painted with powdered lapis on true parchment and stone. Why that color? Who taught them how to pummel the stone into powder? Did it command the Holy into presence in general, or just for those who looked and hesitated long enough to see the movement?
I do not believe there is any coincidence that our planet from space looks like a globe made of lapis. Constantly changing, moving, cycling, brightening and fading, our fragile island home reflects the same depth of commitment azure offers its admirers. Always providing for our needs, this undulating stone gives us what we need to live our days. Azure too offers us the promise of our belovedness, our ability to sink deeply into the rest it provides, and the reminder that such blessed rest can be ours if we but look and take notice.
A person much cherished to me once gave me a perfect piece of lapis. By perfect I mean that this piece is small and smooth as a well-worn river rock. It is flat so that when I put it in the palm of my hand and hug my fingers around it, there is no discomfort or fitting to be had. I feel only the smooth coolness of the watery disk in the soft foldings that connect my fingers to my wrist. This perfect piece of lapis is exactly what Byrd Baylor had in mind in her most excellent book Everybody Needs a Rock. (But I suppose Baylor would tell me that the quality of rocks are a very subjective judgement.) This lapis, well-crinolined with calcite and pyrite, sits on the windowsill above the sink. It so happens that this window faces the southwest, so I can melt into azure's commitments to me as I wash dishes or fill a soup pot with water. This little disk of lapis assures me that my belovedness, blessed rest, the eternal movement of the cosmos are present, now, and likely all of my days, including my dying ones. It reminds me of the promise that I belong to it, and it is mine.