This past summer I was in Washington, D.C., for the annual conference ofthe National Society of Newspaper Columnists. While there, my wife and I had a bit of time to visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which neither of us had ever seen before (and the main lobby of which you see in the photo above).
While there, I looked for art that had some kind of ties to faith or spirituality, and while there were some pieces that connected in that way there was no specific exhibition with that theme.
But there is now.
As Religion News Service reports in this piece, a new exhibit about the Virgin Mary has just opened called “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea.” It will be there until just past Easter of next year.
"The theme of the show is Mary’s symbolic power, expressed in the arts," the RNS piece says.
Protestants, of whom I am one, tend to have a highly respectful view of Mary but it falls fairly far short of the Catholic and Orthodox views of her.
It was one reason that I was glad some years ago to accept an invitation to be the graduation speaker at St. Mary College in Leavenworth, Kan., and receive an honorary doctorate. I thought it would be a good opportunity to think aloud with graduates about Mary -- a name they would carry with them throughout their lives.
I wrote the speech but a few weeks later the president and the chairman of the school's board disinvited me. It turns out they wanted to punish me for the fact that The Kansas City Star, for which I was a columnist, had just published (before my invitation) a series of articles about AIDS among priests (a series I didn't write). Disinviting me was a foolish thing to do and I wrote a column saying so. You can find that column in my first book, A Gift of Meaning. We also posted the speech on The Star's website.
It turned out that the faculty voted almost unanimously to disagree with the disinvitation and one of the teachers even used my speech as the basis for her final exam.
So if I get a chance to visit the new Mary art exhibit in D.C., I will have Leavenworth on my mind. Go figure.
[The photo here on the right is one used by RNS with its story. It carried this caption: Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi), Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro), 1480–81; Tempera and oil on wood panel, 22 7/8 • 15 5/8 in.; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan; inv. 443. Photo courtesy of National Museum of Women in the Arts]
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'GOD' TRIGGERS A DISNEY RETORT
It turns out that so many people use the word God in profane ways that the folks who run the Disney Channel's website feel they have to stop any mention of God in reader responses, which led to a 10-year-old child feeling picked upon for expressing gratitude to God, as this story reports. This is the kind of broad-brush approach that feeds the much-too-prevalent feeling that people of faith are being targeted in American culture (when, in this case, the target was people who swear). Think Bill O'Reilly's war on Christmas. Come on, Disney. Show some e-discernment.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online here.