Friday, July 10, 2009
Act of God
An act of god or a quirk of nature? The image of the Virgin Mary appears on a fallen tree in a Limerick churchyard in Eire. People travel miles to queue up and spend a few moments staring into the gnarled stump to see if within the faint and curving bark rings the familiar construction of an image - an embedded cartoon icon created by man and not god, might be seen. “It gives us hope in these troubled times” says a local shopkeeper. Small frames, flowers and rosary beads are placed at the base of the wooden cairn and the faithful cross themselves and bow as they feel the touch of something they see as supernatural. It would be easy to adopt a truly mocking tone when discussing this kind of event and the almost primitive reverential behaviours that it produces. Having seen Mary suddenly appear on burnt toast, in muffins, in animal fur patterns and on the side of caves in moss and water stains it is remarkable that people never seem to get tired or cynical when yet another image appears.
It is hope, hope of a weird and unsubstantial kind (?) and one that ultimately leads only to a search for more snippets and glimpses of a similar type. No one will get into heaven or out of hell thanks to seeing these images, nobody will be healed or filled, there will be no still small voice or burning bush guidance. They just get the lottery ticket or scratch card fix that lasts a few moments perhaps at best stretching into days, that keeps a far away bright light shining in the cold, that holds the edges of your attention in place and distracts from the mundane, the dreary and the ordinary. The fragile hope of a delicate touch and the shimmering shadow of something tangible reaching back into the ordinary from the great and unknown golden age.
There are a million religions and million views, a million believers and million heretics - all at war with one another and the world either with words, the media or bullets as they proclaim and defend things that are at best vague and open to wide and ruthless interpretation. A disproportionate amount of human time and energy is spent in highlighting differences and celebrating questionable mythologies which ravage like cancer and then distort life in it‘s most secret and personal places. We struggle when we need not, we differ on trivia when we could agree over so much but if, whatever you believe, the finger of some unnamed Old Testament God, the maker of Abraham and Jacob did inscribe the hopelessly romanticized image of a misunderstood woman into an Irish tree - who in what religious place should really be surprised? Whatever gets you through your life…