Thursday, 28 May 2009

Mother, son, holy toast - and imagination

The link in the title to this post is to a Yahoo story regarding a family who have seen the face of Christ in, of all things, a jar of Marmite. Needless to say, I am inclined to be sceptical about such 'visions,' though I do recall past events where, for example, someone saw Mother Teresa's face in a roll, and an entire group detected Christ's image in a worn screen door. (Fear not - I'm going to spare the lot of you deep reflections on seeing Christ in the face of the leper or poor man - since Franciscans wore that one out 7 centuries ago.)

I suppose the general attitude towards Marmite is 'either love it or hate it,' and I fall into the latter category. Were I imaginative enough, I could spin a sermonette about yeast - invisible, yet making the message of Christ grow - but my logical side (which occasionally outweighs my tendency towards the romantic) would scrap that one because the quality of yeast which makes the dough rise is not its invisibility. Those more fanciful still might produce a powerful sermon somehow linking yeast to the Eucharist - but I suppose I'd best leave that one to the Orthodox, since, in the western Church, most of us use unleavened bread. I'll be pragmatic for a moment and say that, sceptical though I am about the 'vision,' I'm glad of anything that would make one sense that God is near.

Since associations so far have been just as loose as those in some of the past writings and sermons I shall reference, I'll proceed to add one. I use the Roman Catholic Office of Readings on most days, and the readings for the Easter season, especially in Ascensiontide, are quite inspiring. For example, selections from Augustine of Hippo and Basil the Great during the past week were the sort which could lead one to an hour's meditation on each paragraph. The great theologians, even when (as is the case with Augustine and original sin) they made statements which led to messes in later centuries (especially if we forget what they were refuting), always were totally devoted to prayer. Their wonderful insights were flavoured not only by their outstanding knowledge, but by love - and an awareness of the limitations of our vision such as springs only from having a glimpse of the divine.

However, many of them, when they were writing neither philosophical arguments nor theological reflections such as those I read this past week, tended to be very imaginative in their homiletic treatment of the scriptures, worship, devotion and the like. Unrelated ideas (perhaps celibacy and the virginity of Mary), extreme symbolism (Augustine's preaching on the good Samaritan makes everything down to the coins have a powerful and unique significance), application of texts from the Hebrew scriptures to elements of Jesus' life as if the long-dead prophet had a crystal ball, all were very common.

Imagination is quite wonderful indeed. Yet the problem with such colourful presentations is that, unless one has background in the actual doctrine or concept, one can tend to remember the dramatic presentation and confuse it with the underlying truth. (As an aside, at least in my youth, I noticed far more people promoting private devotions than doctrine. They'd remember a talk on the brown scapular - or the green, or red, or white - or the promises of the Sacred Heart to Margaret Mary more than an exposition of the Trinity or Incarnation.)

Well, off to consider how Francis would have finished, "And we Praise You for Brother Marmite and Sister Toast..."

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