Thursday, May 1

John Allen's Word From Rome has a very interesting interview with the outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican:

The Vatican drive for dialogue, Lamdan said, comes from John Paul II himself. When he presented his credentials in September 2000, Lamdan said, John Paul told him that his 1986 visit to Rome’s synagogue, the first by a pope, represented the first “station” along a new path. The second station, the pope said, was the Jubilee Year visit to the Holy Land. It was time, the pope said, to build a third station. Despite the pope’s commitment, however, Lamdan said he detects a sea change in the Vatican’s inter-religious priorities in the direction of Islam. “I do think that in some corporate way some type of decision, possibly a strategic one, has been taken by the Vatican in the last two years to try to redefine the relationship with Islam,” Lamdan said.

The interview also includes a lengthy dissection of the April 2002 standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

In my search for weird relics, I ran across this article by our frequent, brilliant and most helpful commentor Sandra Miesel on images of the pregnant and lactating Virgin in medieval art:

In past centuries, when Catholics appreciated the shocking fleshiness of our faith, artists delighted in depicting Maria Gravida (Mary pregnant) and Maria Lactans (Mary nursing). The absence of these motifs today is regrettable because it impoverishes our sense of religious "body language."

Though modern sensibilities may wince, the more explicit the image, the better it satisfied the cravings of medieval Christians! to see, feel, and taste the holy. Their spirituality depended heavily on visual cues. "Realism, the more penetrating the better, was consecrated as a form of worship," observes art historian Leo Sternberg. Medieval people were fascinated by the bodiliness of Christ, Mary as the bearer of Christ, and themselves as imitators of Christ. For them, the Incarnation was the "humanation" of God, Sternberg says.

.....What if Catholics of the third millennium were to rediscover Mary's radiant womb and abundant breasts? Imagine the impact on pro-life causes and reproductive concerns or the encouragement offered to breastfeeding women. If young children saw images of Mary obviously pregnant or nursing the infant Jesus, would they see her in their own mothers, and vice versa? Could enriched Marian symbolism avert interest in goddess worship and Wicca among our young !people? Would it foster a healthy respect for the body, counteracting both sensualism and prudery?

Old devotions cannot be simply reintroduced-the cultural contexts that gave them meaning no longer exist. But striking images from the past could be promoted and new ones created. Patristic and medieval thinking about the significance of Mary's body could be recovered, rethought, and reapplied. There can never be too much reverence for Mary's call to mother God.

Well, 2003-4 Knight-Wallace Fellow Nancy Nall (Derringer) sent me the link to this Richard Cohen column, remarking that it would make excellent blogfodder. Although, as I rather bitchily(I fear) snarked to her that the Santorum flap interests almost as much as the the Dixie Chicks melee, I really did mean to blog it, but, as you can see, didn't have the energy or time, what with being surrounded by spectres of relics and, in the afternoon, by a young man who didn't really nap adequately and spent all afternoon repeating his present mantra of general dissatisfaction: tummy hurts! tummy hurts! literally ever ten minutes.

But, oh, here it is, so tell us what you think:

Worse, in advancing religious arguments for public policy, Santorum and others foreclose both debate and compromise -- the basic ingredients of democracy. If you think, simply as a matter of faith, that homosexual sex ought to be a crime, then I cannot reason with you. We might as well argue over the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth or whether Muhammad really ascended to heaven on a winged horse. As history has shown, when these issues get into the public square, absolutes are declared and swords are drawn.

You hear a lot of talk nowadays about how godless this nation has become -- downright immoral, if you ask some. The prescription supposedly is to give religion some muscle, bring it back into the schools and into public life in general. George Bush, from everything he says, favors that approach -- and the White House, beholden to religious conservatives, waxed Orwellian about Santorum, pronouncing him "an inclusive man."

Rick Santorum serves as a warning. His zealousness, his intolerance swaddled in the tenderness of faith, is polarizing and downright frightening. He does not -- he cannot -- speak for those of us who do not share his faith, although we all must respect his right to practice it. John Kennedy had the right approach in these matters. He didn't run as a Catholic but as a Democrat. On account of that, he won as both.

Coming soon....

Good reviews for Diane Ravitch's new book on textbooks and The Language Police

From the LATimes

and the NYTimes


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