I want to go back into history again today -- as I sometimes do, especially in the summer -- to give me an excuse to talk a bit about religious art.
Pieta means pity, and I've long thought that Michelangelo captured a sense of resigned bereavement in Mary's face as well as the seeming finality of death in Jesus' body. This achievement is especially remarkable considering that when the pope commissioned the work, Michelangelo was only 22 years old. More proof that sometimes genius is no respecter of age or experience.
The Pieta says things to the viewer that words simply cannot convey. And in that way it represents the importance of art in general and religious art in particular.
Religious art is a reminder of the limits of language. Many people insist on particular wording of beliefs and on the literal truth of words in sacred writings, even though all words are metaphors, pointing to a reality beyond themselves. Art gives us a nudge to remind us of that because art shows that not everything can be contained within the ability of words to describe it.
In the Christian tradition, the sermon is a left-brained way of preaching the gospel, while the sacrament of Holy Communion is a right-brained way of preaching the same gospel. That's because the sacrament relies not just on words but also on the taste, touch and feel of the elements of bread and wine. And those become sacramental because they point to a truth beyond themselves.
So thanks today to that old pope and, mostly, to Michelangelo.
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SHOULD WE BLAME GOD?
If Bernie Madoff really has cancer, is it God's punishment? Well, it's no suprise to me that my friend Rabbi Brad Hirschfield says no. At least probably not, given how little the human mind can understand about the divine.