Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Backdrop in Holy Pictures

Apologies for another long hiatus in blogging. I haven't been in the library for a long while, so I haven't had access to a desktop. I'm trying to tap this one out on a phone, though it's irksome.

Today I'm writing about a rather strange topic, and wondering if I'll manage to so much as convey the reason it interests me. I'm writing about the backdrops of holy pictures, and my lifelong fascination with them.

They often come into my mind when I'm praying the mysteries of the rosary. I usually imagine painted depictions of the rosary mysteries, whether actual paintings or imaginary ones. Somehow I seem unable to picture the sacred scenes in a "photo-realist" manner.

And the backdrops, strangely, speak to me almost as powerfully as the action in the foreground.

The non-human world around us can seem so starkly indifferent. (I was going to say "the inanimate world", but when I think about it, it includes plants and animals as well.) We might project our own moods into the natural world around us but, ultimately, we know they are without feeling, without personality, without a soul. They are a brute fact-- just there.

Sometimes, this has appeared to me as a kind of nightmare, especially whenever I've inclined towards philosophical materialism. The world doesn't care. If the human race were to disappear tomorrow, it would carry on as normal.

Thomas Hardy says in some poem, I think, that it would be a relief if the universe were actually hostile. Its indifference is far worse than its malice. The thousands of people who die in an earthquake or a tsunami suffer meaningless, motiveless deaths.

And, even apart from natural disasters, the sheer weight and solidity of the physical world can be overwhelming. To me, at least. Looking up into the night sky or into the tracts of the ocean makes me shudder rather than swoon. It seems so alien. Consciousness seems like an orphan in the cosmos.

What kind of reactions are these in a Christian? But then, I was an atheist for so many years of my life, I have retained many atheist "instincts". Or perhaps it is pessimism rather than atheism. Faith, for me, is not the obvious thing, the given. Faith is the second thought. Futility is the first thought. My natural way of perceiving the world around me is not as God's creation, but as a brute fact.

When I look at the backdrop of holy pictures, that weight lifts for a moment, and the relief is glorious.

It's more than relief. It's suddenly seeing everything fall into place, into the correct order. Those mountains, those clouds, those trees, those buildings... now they are not merely clumps of matter, but the stage scenery for a sacred story. And that sacred story is not only the Annunciation, or the Baptism of our Lord, but all of history.

The Incarnation changes everything, but by raising it onto a a new level. The beauty and the innocence of the physical world is saved. The rivers flow on, the clouds drift, the trees send forth leaves. But now, it has a meaning. Now, it witnesses to the Eternal.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Disappearing Comments

 Many thanks to everybody who has ever commented on this blog. I really appreciate comments.

In recent times, comments have been disappearing in my filter. I really have to moderate them to avoid spam, but it's vexing that real comments enter into a black hole. Apologies to those whose (much appreciated) comments have disappeared.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Joke I Made Up

A sacristan arrived at church a half-an-hour before Mass one Saturday morning and saw that the priest was on the phone, obviously having a rather intense conversation. When he finally hung up, he said: "That was a parishioner whose mother is dying. She left the Faith years ago but now she's hedging over whether she wants the Last Rites or not. She's touch and go. If she says she wants them, I want to rush over there straight away. I'm not sure whether we should go ahead with Mass."

"Oh no!", said the sacristan.

"It's not just that", said the priest. "All the altar boys went to a barbecue yesterday and got food poisoning. Every single one of them is laid up sick today."

"Oh no!" said the sacristan.

"And it's not just that, either", said the priest. "I can't for the life of me find the key for the cupboard with the Communion wafers. I always hang it on the same hook and it's not there now. I've looked everywhere."

"Look", said the sacristan, "there's no way we can go ahead with Mass under these circumstances I'll go out and make the announcement."

The church was beginning to fill up, so the sacristan stepped up and said: "Folks, we're very sorry, but Mass can't go ahead today. All of our servers are down, we can't access the Host, and a terminal is giving us all kinds of trouble."