Parallels – a Lenten poem and reflection

Of what use are symbols?
Dumb objects, bereft of life –
of what use an image,
dead-eyed and heartless?
Of what use the cross, a statue, an icon?

You shall worship no graven image.

Of what use a portrait,
a loved one captured in time?
A moment, a memory,
photographic sentiment.
Somewhere beyond the gloss, humanity abides.

I am occasionally challenged by people who like to equate images with idols, and this is the summary of my response. Idolatry in the historical sense is the worship of an object, often a statue. It involves the complex belief that anything bearing the image of a particular deity has the power to become a part of the deity, or that it becomes a vessel for the deity. Thus, in praying to the object, the worshiper is heard by the god. The Catholic use of imagery and iconography does not fit that pattern. It is closer to the keeping of personal photographs, using visual signs to remind ourselves of a separate existence. No one looks at a family portrait and believes that their loved ones are there enclosed in glass, looking out at them, but it may inspire a moment of love for those people, wherever elsewhere they happen to be.

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