Friday, May 06, 2005

The image of Mary in the Chicago underpass

By now you've probably heard about the image of Mary on the wall of a highway underpass in Chicago (picture below). I would accept the most obvious explanation that the image was formed by natural causes--water and salt runoff from the highway above. While I don't see it as a miraculous image, it's still very interesting because of the way it can speak to us of God.

The people who saw the image recognized something in it that looked like the Blessed Virgin. And they've responded with faith. A sort of makeshift shrine has popped up at the site. So even if the image itself is not miraculous, it's evoked a response of faith. In today's secularized society, that in itself is miraculous in some way. It's a reminder that everything in the world can speak to us of God if we see it through eyes of faith. Just the fact that this image appeared right around the beginning of May, Mary's month, is also significant.

There's an excellent book called Encountering Mary by Sandra Zimdars-Swartz. In it she studies several Marian apparitions, but from a particular point of view. She looks at how the seers' experience of their visions was shaped by the response from the people they shared their story with. At La Salette, for example, Melanie and Maximin said they saw a lady. They didn't identify her as Mary, but the people in the town immediately came to that conclusion. That in turn influenced the way the children experienced their further visions. Even when a vision is authentic, the person who receives it passes that experience through their own mind and draws conclusions about it. They make deductions from what they have seen.

What do you think about the wall in Chicago?


The Anchoress said...

Good post, sister, I linked to it!

Therese Z said...

Was your timing about this because it was defaced last night and painted over this morning by the highway people?

I know things like this give many non-Catholics the cuh-reeps. It's hard for them to see the stirring of faith. They presume that people think the image IS the Blessed Mother, instead of an image, a thought, a dream of her, given by God for our devotion.

How to compare these little shrines with the "shrines" people create at the site of roadside accidents, putting the identical little crosses, toys, candles, letters, flowers at the place someone died? If I could find a good way to discuss the two, I think I could explain the phenomena to more non-Catholics, or Catholics who don't know what to do with the whole thing.

ElCapitanAmerica said...

I'm glad I found your blog and read this entry, I was recently involved in a discussion about this "miracle".

I think your positive attitude towards it is admirable, because you are seeing the work of good and good fruits from it. However, maybe I'm just more pessimistic, but I think this usually does more harm than good. We had a similar one of these in my area, in Clearwater, you have probably heard about it (it was a stain in the glass of a building).

I think many of these cases make Catholics look bad. The reaction I was getting from most non Catholics is that we're a bunch of fanatics, even worse, just ready to believe miracles in the most ridiculous things. I like your point, but really, a lot of the people praying there and lighting candles do think this was a miracle and that it is the Virgin ... when clearly, it seems like it's just a stain.

I also think there's a problem that I like to call "special effects" spirituality. We are often so hungry for God, that we want to fight our doubts, fears and weaknesses with "special effects", that is miracles. We see this with many of the "healers" on TV, but also among Catholics. I think this is something we should be careful of, our relationship with God doesn't need "special effects", we need a deeper understand, relationship and vision of miracles in simple things during our daily lives (which I think it's part of your point).

Anyways, I hope I don't come out as too critical, but I do think we need to be a bit careful with this stuff. When people just see us doing these things and it looks too ridiculous, it might damage God's message.

Sr. Lorraine said...

The point about the reaction of non-Catholics to it is a good one. I wasn't really thinking of that aspect but it is true that sometimes these things can cause others to think we're a little strange or perhaps too credulous.
One comparison that comes to mind is the Old Man of the Mountain that was in New Hampshire. It fell down a couple years ago, but for a long time this craggy rock that looked like a face captured the imagination of people. It was even on the license plates and some road signs in New Hampshire. It became a symbol that people identified with. Everybody knew it was purely natural, not miraculous in any way. But it still inspired people.

Jack Bennett said...

Somewhat off-topic but Zimdars-Swartz's book is very good, Ruth Harris's Lourdes is also a good book on not only Lourdes but the time in which a lot of apparitions like La Salette and the rise of the cult of the Virgin. Both authors seems seem particularly impressed by the character of Bernadette and despite the fact that both works are secular (Harris for instance describes herself as a secular Jew) they seem to believe Bernadette saw what she said she saw. Which proves a point Fr. Benedict Groeschel has said that St.Bernadette is the standard by which the Church judges all other Marian visionaries.