Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday for non-Christians

I had a day off from work and went for a random walkabout through Rotterdam. Beforehand I had decided  to visit any open church and to meditate upon today being Good Friday. I was in the neighbourhood of the Eendrachtskerk and I thought this could be the right place and time. I sat down and waited for the service to start.

It was a very traditional Catholic service, quite different from the one in our, more progressive, parish. But it felt very appropriate with the Stations of the Cross, the kneeling, the prayer, the meditation and the Veneration of the Cross. An unexpected blessing.

Later I started thinking about ritual and symbolism. In our modern secular world there exists nothing comparable with the Station of the Cross - no secular equivalent that combines movement through physical  space with movement through a symbolic, spiritual realm. Nothing with the symbolic power of the Veneration of the Cross - the kissing of the feet of Jesus. A respectful, but very intense and intimate act - which gets deeper under the skin than words ever could.

I like modern, innovative art and I know a lot of great artworks in the conceptual style. But very few have this strange  power, depth and simplicity. At this moment - Good Friday - I cannot think of any comparable secular examples.

I fear that most religious people don't appreciate the innovative energy and spiritual power of art. And I fear most modern artists do not register the power and depth of traditional symbolism.  Have these two realms grown too far apart? Have they nothing to say to each other? Is there any way to restore a connection that once existed?

One artwork that crosses the line (no pun intended) is Bill Viola's Room for St. John of the Cross. The artist writes:

I was in a bookshop, there's this little thin paperback, Poems of St John of the Cross and I picked it up and I read the introduction, about this man's life and I was just so touched and I was shaken because it was so much like the experiences that I had had and so deep in a human way for all of us. And I was working on this piece about inside and outside and I had this plan to build this room within a room and very quickly it became this, I mean it was like a flash... it was like the whole piece was there in front of me and I didn't know what to call it, and so I just one day, the little voice in my head says, "well just call it what it is", so I titled it, Room for St John of the Cross, and in 1983 and probably even now you just did not make works of art for Christian Saints, I mean this was very uncool.

Bill Viola interview - BBC Radio 3
Video of artwork - Youtube

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