Tuesday, May 6, 2014
I Like This Picture Very Much
My taste in sacred art runs, perhaps, to the anodyne. I could write a long post about it (I mean, about my taste and thoughts on sacred art), and probably will at some point, but I don't have the energy for it right now. (I also like representations of the Blessed Virgin to be ethereal, even though I'm well aware she was a hard-working Judean mother.)
I have a strange memory of a trip to the mountains with my school (or rather, a summer holiday 'project' with kids from my school, a kind of recreational summer school). I must have seen, at some part of the day, a picture of Jesus that was painted in much the same style as the picture above (except more wishy-washy). I remember that sight was superimposed, in my mind, over the blue sky and fluffy white clouds of that day. I was about eleven but I remember being struck by that kind of sentimental religiosity (although obviously I wouldn't have understood such a phrase at the time). It seemed both very potent and very strange. I felt, though I couldn't have put it into words, how odd it was that a historical figure from such a distant time and place should be such a part of everyday life. It seemed odd but also right. I marvelled at the way Jesus inhabited the same mental and cultural world as car air fresheners, bottles of Lucozade, radiators, baseball caps and measles. I was a rather bookish and dreamy child, but I recognized that Jesus did not belong to the same realm as Frodo, Darth Vader and Dracula-- though he seemed like he should. It wasn't even a question of being real or imaginary. Pictures of Jesus were so dreamy and otherworldly-- but people who inhabited the world of rugged and solid things took Jesus seriously, or even for granted. I am striving to say the near-unsayable and not doing too well.
A commenter once remarked on the lack of Marian devotion on this site. I could write a long post about that, too. Maybe a whole series! Suffice it to say that I do pray to our Blessed Mother, that I honour her, and the fact that I seem to lack the spontaneous outpouring of Marian fervour shared by so many other Catholics is a cause of regret to me-- and one that I hope will be remedied in the future.
When I started this blog, I saw the battle (of ideas) with atheism and secularism as being the burning issue for Catholicism in the twenty-first century-- as being 'where it's all at'. But I care about this less and less. It's not that I don't think apologetics are important. I suppose I just think they're less important than I did even a few months ago. I increasingly feel that the real life of the People of God flourishes almost without taking any notice of the philosophical and ideological tussles that fill the world with such self-important thunder. I have more and more respect for popular devotions and for the lush, emotional, unselfconscious prayer life I see in so many ordinary Catholics-- the sort of Catholics who don't feel perpetually called upon to justify their Catholicism to contemporary scepticism.
I'm now more inclined to think that the real action is happening, not in the lecture theatre where a Catholic professor is debating an atheist journalist, but rather in the prayer group in a living room a block away. (But both are needed.)
I suppose our Lord's words put it best; we will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven unless we become as little children.
As for the sceptics themselves....I would never for a moment advocate that we should cease to engage with them. But it seems preposterous naivety to me, now, to think that your average New Atheist, or radical Marxist, or ultra-liberal, is somehow going to be won over by rational or historical or philosophical argument. The defence must be made, but more for the sake of the faithful than the (fervently) faithless. When it comes to them, I'm more and more inclined to think the best approach is pretty much:
Leave them alone, and they'll come home, wagging their tails behind them.
(But only if they see examples of vibrant, living faith around them.)