Monday, 7 March 2011

Reflections on my Montmatre moment..

I am pleased by Ian's response. I wanted to state how a felt about Merson's great mosaic and then come back with a more sober and considered view, but Ian has raised all the issues I wanted to cover. And I thank him taking the time to do it. I wanted to contrast the image of the Gesu and the Merson mosaic because they are so very different. I grew up with the Batoni image and I have to confess, it did nothing for me. I found it sentimental and to use the word Teilhard used 'mawkish'. I think it got in the way of prayer and reflection. I have a suspicion that I am not on my own in that regard. When I went to the Sacre Coeur for the first time the mosaic was a revelation. I had never thought on that scale before. I remember at the time it made me think of a space rocket. It just felt the kind of image which fitted with the space age we were then in. It excited me. I think I went to Notre Dame a day or so later, and you are right, that was a more spiritual experience. The inhuman size of the Merson image was its appeal. This evening coming home of the train I had a copy of Teilhard 'Two Letters to a Friend' with me and this passage hit home, after Ian's comments:

..I simply think that , in present conditions, Christ is kept too small( as compared with the `World): ...the only trouble is - and may be - that they do not see the real size of the World..

Merson's Christ is not loving us or absorbing us in his love: he is totally dominating us. It is Wagner, not Mozart. It shows us Christ on a massive scale, which goes far beyond the intimacy of the Botoni image. In the mosaic we get the 'cosmic' scale of Christ, but we lose completely his humanity. Christ is no longer kept too small, he is massive and total. But as we look up we cannot see Jesus whose heart calls to our heart. So although I think it does break new ground as an image of the Sacred Heart, it loses so much of what the Sacred Heart is all about. We gain a sense of the size of Christ, but we completely lose the humanity of Jesus. And if we lose that, we have lost everything. Merson's Christ is seductive in that kind of Fascist ( dare I say Wagnerian ) way. You are right. For all its beauty it is not the Christ of cosmic power , it is the Christ of the powerful. It does for me capture Teilhard more than Botoni types, but it still falls way too short. That is why, I think, I came to the realization that an icon was the only language which could begin to express the ideas we find in Teilhard. Does all of that make sense? (In other words, the Merson image is, I suppose a love-hate thing for me - again rather like Wagner!)

It has been a long day, but I think what Ian has touched upon and what I have to think about is the political / economic/ social dimension of the Sacred Heart. That is important to me. And which ever way to go, that brings us back to Sacre Coeur. Because, above all else, it is a political statement. I think Teilhard has much to say about this that is relevant to how we see the Sacred Heart today. What role can the devotion play in the world in the 21st century? It is tempting to think that the answer to that question is in Montmatre, but it never was, and never will be. But it is a good place from which to start looking for the answers - and above all the questions. This icon, I believe, is an important part of that search.

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