Sunday, January 30, 2011


“But a moment's thought will show that if disease is beautiful, it is generally some one else's disease.”  G.K Chesterton, Orthodoxy

So, instead of the above, I had remembered Chesterton (who was speaking about the poetic appeal of insanity) having use the metaphor of ruins:  If a ruin is picturesque it is generally the ruin of someone else's house. I’m not sure if I misremembered the quote, or if he said it somewhere else. In either case, the misquote was on my mind a couple weeks ago while I was doing a walk through of the former convent of St. Cecilia in Brooklyn NY. In two weeks a group of artists, including myself, are installing their work throughout the building. It’s an amazing space that’s a privilege to exhibit in, but for me it was a sad place as well. Like the artist friendly Soho and East Village of late lamented memory it’s a space available because it’s left empty by the death of something else. In Manhattan’s case that was the death of New York’s light manufacturing industry. In this case the void is left by the service tradition of Catholic female religious, something that’s not quite dead, but has certainly shrunk.
On one hand the world changes, and the role of religious in that world changes too.  Maybe it’s not a bad thing if that role is a smaller one, more focused on religious and social activism, rather than being a large, underpaid, education and health care workforce. Those are roles so tied up with the negative stereotypes my parent's generation manufactured. On the other hand, I think something important is lost when those communities pass away. What’s lost is the chance for a daily encounter with the importance of looking out for other people. I think something special is provided by a sub-community devoted entirely to the service of others, living in your community, visibly walking the same streets but for a totally different reason. Religion aside, that gives a witness to service as a purpose to life that I think the world needs now. Instead we have crumbling ghosts with Gothic windows, standing empty witness on street corners for a few moments before the inevitable condos take their place…

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