Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tree-Trunk Mary

          A person of my deeply Pilgimistic heritage should shudder to admit this, but I love Catholic iconography. When you grow up in a religion that embraces simplicity to the point of worshipping the boring, you can end up with a craving for the arcanely glorious, rowdy, colorful, crowded visual Byzantousity that Catholicism often manifests.
          Plus, I have a little thing for saints. I like the idea that there exist dead people who act as intercessors on our behalf with the divine. It's a compelling and comforting idea—that the saints, having once been human but having become divine, bridge the gulf between the human and the divine.
          My interest in these creatures of two worlds means that I pay a lot more attention to iconography than you would assume from my resolutely non-religious stance. So when I heard that the Virgin Mary had miraculously appeared on a tree trunk in New Jersey a few weeks back, I was truly excited.
          I suppose I never really expected to see a detailed rendering of Mary in tree bark—although, why not? The divine should be entirely capable of something like that.

Beyond the abilities of the divine? I think not.
            But to see what actually inspired all the ruckus and devotion just made me sad that people—True Believers—think that the divine is capable of nothing more miraculous than a scar from a broken branch:

And yet we are expected to fill in the blank by convincing ourselves
that we kind of sort of maybe see something there.
This photo comes from this website.
          A divine that can't gin up an appropriate face and hands and some fashion-forward robing for these Marian manifestations is a low-rent divine indeed, hardly worth paying attention to, no matter how badly we need to believe.
          I would have enjoyed the Mystery-with-a-capital-M of seeing Mary on a tree trunk in New Jersey, reminding us that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. I'm very sorry there was no mystery there at all.

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