Friday, 2 September 2011

"It is the industrialisation of the word and of the image that has ruined religion"

I dipped this evening into Alina Reyes book of reflections on St Bernadette and the apparitions at Lourdes, La jeune fille et la Vierge. I commented on this book in June 2008 (scroll down the post to reach the section about the book). You might find it useful to read my comment there before continuing. My own translation from the French original; I have also added the emphasis in bold.
The word is at once erotic and transcendent; men and women know this well, when they address to each other words of love to at once enkindle their desire and to purify it. The Church, with its representations of the Virgin, of Christ often almost naked, of the apostles, of the saints who make up a humanity that sometimes is blessed and sometimes suffering, was for the faithful the place of an unconscious eros, but freed from sin, at the same time as being the sacred treasure of poetry.

How have these dimensions dwindled, not to say disappeared during the course of time? Just as the industrialisation of a country ruined the Soubirous family by undermining the work of the artisan, and pushed to one side the economic life of a lovely little village at the foot of the Pyrenees, it is the industrialisation of the word and of the image that has ruined religion. Their galloping proliferation by means of books and photography and even more by means of newspapers, then the cinema, radio, television, the internet, etc. It is calculated that the man of the Middle Ages saw fewer images in the whole of his life than modern man sees in one day. I bet that the proportion is not close to being equal to the instances of gossip suffered.

Le chant de Bernadette, was written by Franz Werfel, faithful to his promise. Bernadette possessed few words, and little mastery of her language. Also, her vision entrusted her with a message of few words, but condensed like a poem, a song.  The rest was expressed by all the other means that speak to the world, a place, a time, personalities, landscapes, a story, and then the bodies and faces, as it happens the body and the face of Bernadette, charged with receiving the imprint of the visions at the instant when they came, so that she could be read like a book of flesh. The first shrine that this field knew was a cave, a refuge for the light hidden below a dark forest, and the living flesh of a young girl wrapped in old clothes.
With the iminent introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, we can perhaps reflect - and hope - that it will make the "poetry" of the Liturgy more transparent.

But we might also reflect on the "industrialisation of the word and of the image" represented by the modern means of communication, and whether or not our participation in that industrialisation makes better known the poetry of religion or, as Alina Reyes suggests, undermines it.

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