Consecutive Days Riding: 150 Days Blogged: 134
New Mileage: 6 Total Trip Mileage: 1042
As I ride the bike today I am thinking about spiritual inspiration and the situations that remind us of the spiritual aspects of our lives. This topic was inspired by a newspaper article and an internet story.
The article noted that the Shroud of Turin will soon be put on display and that people can reserve a spot in line for a 3-5 min viewing of this sacred relic. A million people have already signed up for this pilgrimage. The internet story: “Ganesha gets chopped; Hindus are furious” came from an Indonesian city. It was reported that Hindus were making a pilgrimage to a site where the image of Ganesha was observed in the bark of a tree, many of them were leaving flowers and incense. The outrage was about the fact that a low level official of the city cut down and destroyed the tree.
In the case of the Shroud we have a pilgrimage to a site to view a sacred relic. In the second story we have a pilgrimage to observe what is sometimes labeled as Simulacra. This is defined as a sighting of an image with spiritual or religious themes, usually religiously notable people or spiritual symbols in everyday objects or phenomena of the natural world. These phenomena have received considerable attention since the advent of the Internet. Recently on E-Bay, someone sold of a piece of toast bearing the Virgin Mary’s likeness for $28,000!
A relic is defined as an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved and venerated as a tangible memorial. Relics play an important role in many but not all of the world’s religions. According to the Catholic Church, relics can be classified into three groups. First-Class Relics are items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints. Second-Class Relics are items that a saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc. Third-Class Relics are any object that is touched by a first- or second-class relic.
Relics have various degrees of importance for different faiths. In the Catholic Church relics were an important aspect of the consecration of new altars and churches. After Buddha’s death his cremated remains were divided up and place in the various Stupas that have now become important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. The “Cloak of the Prophet” is kept in the sacred Muslim Mosque of Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is kept locked away and only taken out during times of great crisis. Making a pilgrimage to these relics is often seen as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God.
Simulacra have received considerable attention in the media recently, particularly on the internet. This started in 1977 with Christ’s image on a flower tortilla, since labeled the “Miracle Tortilla,” and continued with the “Nun Bun” and the “Virgin Mary toast.” This phenomenon is not a new development as many early pilgrimages were made to grottos, caves and rock formations that presented the believer with an “image” of religious significance seemingly etched by natural element. For many pilgrims these were seen as signs of the sacredness of the site and special “healing powers” were often associated with them.
It seems to me there are two questions that often arise in relationship to both the existence and use of relics and simulacra. The first question has to do with the validity of these objects (relics) and events/observation (simulacra). Some scientists will explain simulacra by ascribing them to a human faculty for delusion called “pareidolia,” a perception of pattern and meaning from randomness. Many scientists also believe that humans are hardwired to recognize facial patterns for example babies begin to recognize facial features by the time they are one month old). In addition, human perceptual Gestalt principles operate subconsciously in all of us. They work automatically to fit partial pieces of information into a “whole” picture or figure. Of course the issue of the validity of relics is a hotly contested issue. Scientific research on the Shroud of Turin has raised serious questions about its age, placing its creation in the 13-14th century. The Vatican has tiptoed around the issue, making no claim about its authenticity but calling it “an instrument of evangelization.” I do not want to engage in arguments about “validity claims”. Belief in these things has more to do with faith than it does with data.
To me the more important question concerns the usefulness and meaning of these phenomenons in the lives of the pilgrims who travel to see them or choose to find significance in their mere occurrence. If these events help to strengthen a person’s spiritual belief system, renew their faith in the presence of the divine, provide them with a purpose to explore their goals and priorities and/or promote and trigger a significant mystical or religious experience, then I would argue it has been a good thing. Whether the person has trekked around the world to view the burial shroud of Christ or Buddha’s birth place, or found spiritual revelations in cloud formations or the shape of a breakfast pastry does not matter as long as the experience functions to deepen their spiritual connections.
As a pluralist and a mystic I believe that the presence of the divine, along with revelations and insights can be found in all aspect of our existence. If we are perceptive and open to these messages we will find them. I take frequent walks and nature provides me with spiritual revelations in the cycles of nature, the beauty of a blossom, and the sensation of rain on my skin. To some people it’s just the changing of the seasons, a flower and rain… to me they all have functionally profound spiritual significance.
In the end, isn’t it more important that I feel energized and invigorated and that I share these feelings with other pilgrims? What does it matter whether the insight came from a sacred scripture, a visit to a church or temple, a walk in the woods, or a water stain on my shower door!
Before I leave I want to add one additional twist to our discussion of seeing or finding images in what appears to be random or haphazard patterns. In Psychology there is a class of Personality tests called Projective tests. The most famous among this group is the Rorschach, or “ink blot” test. The rationale behind these tests is that if you present someone with an ambiguous stimuli like an ink blot, wood grain pattern or wall stain, a person will see images based upon their personality, needs and prevailing beliefs. So a highly religious individual would be expected to see religiously significant images.
I came across an example of Simulacra featured on a blog page. A slab of granite was quarried that bore, in many peoples’ opinion, an image of Christ. The piece reportedly sold for four times its usual value to a church which plans on placing it in their kitchen. The blog site asked viewers what they saw in the image. The results of this informal survey included: Christ’s image, a skull, a mother bird feeding it’s young, a mushroom, sexual genitalia, a dinosaur, a hotdog, to name only a few. What might you see?
If you have enjoyed the blog please sign up for stationarypilgrim’s e-mail notification by going to the upper right corner of this page!