Wednesday, April 20, 2005

“Our Lady of the Underpass” A Sighting

The same week that Rome announced a new Pope, headlines appeared in the Chicago press about a sighting of Mary, Mother of Jesus. Motorists saw her image, they say, on a discolored wall of the Fullerton Avenue underpass of the Kennedy Expressway. With a tilt of the head and liberal imagination, one can make out what looks like a rough draft of a medieval artist's conception of Mary, which has become the canonized image familiar to most Christians, especially Catholics. To the left of the likeness, an inscription reads, "Satan Loves U," composed beneath a pentagram associated with the occult.

In swift fashion, men and women crowded before the water stain, to stare, light candles, weep, supplicate, thumb their rosaries, take pictures with their cell phones, and drop flowers before fractured concrete and some interesting graffiti.

It is true that religion does not fare well when confined to an abstraction. We are charged to believe in the Unseen, not the unfelt. Whenever religion alights someplace, religious culture and art usually follow. In the Islamic tradition, however, this art shies away from depictions of humans, relying on what is arguably a more powerful and authentic spiritual effulgence: the voice, architecture, calligraphy, intricate patterns (with symmetry and without), poetry, interior design, gardening, and the like. Islam, in general, has a problem with human depictions and the customs that lead people to find solace in them. One suspects that the issue exceeds concern about idolatry. Rather, Islam attaches greater importance to the inner habiliment of spirituality, often referred to as the "inner eye," that is meant to engender degrees of certitude that stand like oaks. Images of humans (even spontaneous ones) and their role in spirituality have presented problems in the past because people ultimately depend on them and their ephemeral natures, thus impairing the more rewarding and durable qualities hidden within us all.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, this is the first time i read for you and i wonder where you are originally from as you only say that you were raised in Chicago.

4/22/2005 5:12 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Anon, I'm not sure why you're asking.. Any reason? Does it matter? In my bio, I stated that was *born* and raised in the Chicago area.

4/23/2005 9:10 AM  
Blogger NotInCOmmanD said...

Just came across this recently on BBC News ... I guess it never ends!

6/22/2005 10:38 AM  

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