|Pilgrims at St. Edwards' Tomb|
Enter the strategy of comparing behaviors. [Geez that sounds facile when I put it like that. (Maybe I should drop the "geez"). My anxieties about publishing anything-not-in-an-anthology are pathetically debilitating - ack!] - of comparing behaviors not to say "we are all the same," or "we are no better than the Middle Ages" (though the shock value of the latter statement has proven effective in shaking the complacency that we here and now live in the best of all possible worlds, or that our world needs no improvement), but rather to examine the conditions of possibility for both responses, to try and understand what's motivating and driving the actors in both scenarios. This is why in teaching relics and reliquaries I introduce the idea of the belief in the power/currency of saints' bones by asking a student if I may tear up his or her $20 bill. Of course I can't - why not? Because we somehow believe that that piece of paper, inked in that particular way, is worth something. And so the interest in the class discussion becomes "how materials of intrinsic non-worth come to have worth" instead of "medieval people were naïve for believing that old bones were worth something" (it's actually really helpful in teaching art period, and I never cease to marvel that paint and canvas, or bits of stone have come to mean so much).
And so at the end of a really swell Thanksgiving holiday which included hiking and movies and reading and talking with the kids, and talking about Egypt and California and protests and pepper spray and violence with the adults, I am left wondering about footage like the one I invite you to view below. Medieval pilgrims and their fervor tend to unsettle students. Perfect, let's bring that to Thanksgiving, its talk of pilgrims, and the modern incarnation of a fervent rush.
I am fascinated watching that crowd surge. It's not the secular, rational, controlled world I live in, and I'd never ever put myself there. But there's something satisfying in watching that powerful flow of people (maybe to compensate for all the crowds crushed by authoritarian regimes of late?). It's easy, as the commentators do, to dismiss their fervor as stupid and naïve, but they exist and they are driven and they are interconnected (by love of family, and pull of objects, and hope of connection and yes, even happiness) - and we should be asking why and how, for then and now.
|Pilgrim Steps at Canterbury|