Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Pope's Hat and Other Disguises

I have always thought that outer garments of royalty and religion, although symbols of something, are superfluous and even absurd on some level. Symbols represent something transcendent and or reflect attributes of the thing being symbolized. However, we often get "stuck" on the symbol rather than remembering that which it represents. At this stage in humanity's evolution, aren't we capable of "getting it" without the fluff, without the pomp and circumstance, without the symbol?

I guess not, as most people I have spoken to about these "vestiges" and vestments of Medievalism, don't agree. I realize that is the weight of tradition and expectation to see such display as part of the pageantry of  the papacy, but it still seems unnecessary and outdated.  I don't understand, for example, how the Pope's wearing Prada shoes fits into the mix. Wouldn't simple sandals suffice and be far more symbolic? That is why, when I saw the Pope Benedict on TV, with much ado (bowing and ring-kissing), the spectacle inconsistent with the image of the humble Fisherman he represents. That hat seemed undeniably absurd and I had to laugh out loud (without an accompanying lightning bolt).

While it is true that the shape of the Pope's hat, the fabric, the gold threads, the jewels, the colors, the vestments, the entourage, and all the rest, are meant to reflect the grandeur and loftiness of God, it is also true that the material opulence, beauty and wealth were also intended as a display of power and authority, which the average, less educated and more "simple" people would admire and respect (and obey). Yet, then as now, the very thing to be honored and revered, may be overshadowed by the glitter and grandeur. The symbol becomes the thing in itself--"The medium becomes the message."

I suppose that none of it is going away any time soon, but I would like thinking (and longing for) human beings, especially those in churches and governments who look to and engage in such displays to consider what would more truly represent, if anything, the beliefs, values and virtues that are at the very heart of such institutions.

I recently re-read a Rilke poem which suggests my sentiments exactly, although I had not been exactly in touch with my sentiments until I heard and felt these words again.

"God's True Cloak"

We must not portray you in king's robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes
we take the same gold for scepter and crown
that has disguised you through the ages.

Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls.
And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you. (Book of Hours)

Yes, we can have a direct, real and true experience of that which is holy, not our eyes alone,  but truly through our hearts--open to seeing the sacred, not in symbols, but in each other and in creation--which are one and the same with the divine--not a new thought, but one worth reconsideration in the age of the "consciousness soul."

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