Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Surfer Jesus

We´re now well into Galicia, lovely country that in places reminds me of my native Vermont. Green, rolling hills, thick forests, narrow roads. The local culinary treat is pulpo (octopus,) which, so far, I´m declaring is too expensive, so I won´t try it. Yes, that´s merely an excuse.

More churches are open here than earlier on the trail. What continues to strike me is how utterly Marian many of them are. In some places, you have to squint to find Jesus anywhere in the front of the church--he´s reduced to a small cross on the altar, or a little section of a grand [-iose] Baroque reredo. The clear focus of attention is Mary. We see Mary holding a tiny Jesus, we see her with her heart pierced by sorrows, we see her crowned queen, we see her ascending to heaven, we see her visiting Elisabeth--basically, if it´s Mary, we´ve seen it. Usually multiple times in the front of a church, dominating the scene behind the altar.

If Jesus is there at all, he´s generally silent. Either he´s a baby in Mary´s arms, or crucified. Rarely do we see Jesus alive and active. No healings. No Jesus preaching. No illustrated parables. (I thought the Good Samaritan story might loom large on the camino, but no. Once we saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem, and occasionally we see him being tortured prior to his crucifixion.

I am intrigued by what people choose to show and not to show about their faith. What stories are important? What does Jesus do, and what does he look like doing it? And how are we to interpret churches that seem to be temples of Mary rather than of her son? Is it significant that Jesus is generally depicted at times when he did NOT speak, either as an infant or dead?

Wandering Sarria last night, we went out to see the church of Mary Magdalene. At first denied entry, we were finally let in by a curmudgeonly monk, only to find, alas, not a single image of the Magdalene we sought. "Es la iglesia," the monk grumbled, pointing to the floor. But on another church we saw an image of Jesus crowned, blessing passers-by, with an almost surfer-silly smile on his face. Probably 12th century or so. Finally we´d met a welcoming Jesus--not dead, not being tortured, not a baby adorning his mother´s lap. Just gloriously happy, and blessing us all. Gotta love a savior like that.

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