RENEW THE FACE OF THE EARTH

We hear a lot lately about renewing the Church, about change, about starting over. If we’re serious, I would submit that the very first thing we can do is stop watching the news.

The media inevitably paint things in the direst possible light, with generally zero correlation to–I can only speak for myself here–what is going on in my own life and heart.

How can we expect to discern the true from the false, the authentic from the fake, the interesting from the banal if we allow secular newscasters to make those calls for us?

The withered imagination, mummified emotional life and loneliness generated thereby, as opposed to allowing ourselves to be animated the teachings of Christ, strike me as tragic.

I find true crime stories, ’60s horror movies, and film noir way more compelling than the news.

Recently, for example, I re-watched Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss, and realized that in a bizarre way it’s actually a “pro-life” movie–with a violent ex-prostitute and her pedophile fiancé as protagonists. Put that on your picket signs!

No but seriously, what does it mean to be pro-life, which is to say for life, in all its exuberant nuttiness, paradox and mystery? Have we become so trapped in our narrow little circles of acquaintances and friends, categories, routines, that we’ve become followers of Christ in word only? Are we so asleep that we’ve lost all hope of being interested, intrigued, challenged, moved, freed from our own idols, addictions and attachments?

I believe we have a responsibility as Catholics (among other things) to educate ourselves in literature, music, painting and film. We don’t have to become art critics, but we’re called to learn to discern what is good, beautiful, and true. We’re called to be able to recognize a compelling story, to in some rough way articulate why a book or painting moves us, why and how we identify with morally conflicted or outright villainous characters.

But most of all, perhaps, we need the curious, trusting hearts of children.

If we want to renew the Church, we can’t sit around waiting for someone else to do it. We ARE the Church.


“Nearly every child is inarticulate about that which concerns him most deeply–when he reaches an age in which he has emotional responses to other people he is almost totally unable to express them, especially in words. About that which causes him to suffer, and about the vague yet terrible fears which invade him in secret, he is usually dumb.

With a young child then, art (in this case I mean drawing pictures, or making things in putty or some such substance) is as truly as it was to primitive men, a means of communication and of liberation…

Not it is a necessity to all human beings to reveal the secrets of their soul–to express their inmost love, their secret joy, to externalize their hidden, and often unformulated fears.

To do this is the simplest and most primitive use of art…

When the craftsman lays his hands upon the material into which he can most easily pour his own secret life, his touch is a caress; it is the touch of love. He will know at once that this is the substance that can receive his dream, this it is that shaped by his hands will be the shape of his shapeless longing, and will contain that which is within him and yet his heart cannot contain.

A man is never really whole until he has found that material which is for him the potential substance of his dreams.”

–Caryll Houselander, from an essay about her work with war-traumatized children called “The Power to Heal,” found in Essential Writings


” ‘Why have I not dreams?’ I feel like people who do not eat or sleep enough, who are always hungry or tried, and this might be one of the reasons why I make films. Maybe I want to create images for the screen that are so obviously absent from my head at night. I am constantly daydreaming, however.

My honest belief is that the images in my films are your images, too. Somehow, deep in your subconscious, you will find them lurking dormant like sleeping friends. Seeing the images on film wakes them up, as I am introducing to you a brother whom you have never actually met. That is one reason why so many people around the world seem to connect with my films. The only difference between you and me is that I am able to articulate with some clarity these unpronounced and unproclaimed images, our collective dreams…

I truly feel there is something dangerous emerging here. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is television because to a certain degree it ruins our vision and makes us very sad and lonesome. Our grandchildren will blame us for not having tossed hand grenades into TV stations because of commercials. Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are worn-out images because of the inability of too many people to seek out fresh ones.

As a race we have become aware of certain dangers that surround us. We comprehend, for example, that nuclear power is a real danger for mankind…We have understood that the destruction of the environment is another enormous danger. But I truly believe that the lack of adequate imagery is a danger of the same magnitude. It is as serious a defect as being without memory. What have we done to our images? What have we done to our embarrassed landscapes? I have said this before and will repeat it again as long as I am able to talk: if we do not develop adequate images we will die out like dinosaurs. Look at the depiction of Jesus in our iconography, unchanged since the vanilla ice-cream kitsch of the Nazarene school of painting in the late nineteenth century. These images alone are sufficient proof that Christianity is moribund. We need images in accordance with our civilization and our innermost conditioning, and that is why I like any film that searches for new images no matter in what direction it moves or what story it tells. One must dig like an archaeologist and search our violated landscape to find anything new. “

Werner Herzog, from Herzog on Herzog, Chapters 2 and 3

4 Replies to “RENEW THE FACE OF THE EARTH”

  1. Caryll Houselander is such an interesting figure, her “Passion of the Infant Christ” is my go to Advent book. I’ve never been able to find Maisie Ward’s biography of Houselander at a reasonable price.

    1. Someone gave it to me years ago, That Divine Eccentric–really wonderful.

  2. I really enjoy your blogs, (found you through The Tidings). You always provide such rich food for thought and a dash of wry wit, to boot!

    The Herzog quote made me think of the powerful crucifixion panel in the Isenheim Altarpiece as a heart-rending antidote to the traditional “milksop Jesus” we so often see portrayed. I first saw images of that Altarpiece, sitting in an Art History class at PCC, way back in 1974!!! They have stayed with me ever since.

    Best regards from a former Pasadena dweller, (well, South Pasadena to be honest), who’s now exiled to the desert!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ann, yes! I nabbed a “picture book” of the Isenheim Altarpiece and some other Grunewald works from a sidewalk giveaway a while back–no expert, but have always been compelled by these images, esp around Easter…oh the desert…many memories of stays…Holy Week a few years ago in a Joshua Tree cabin that had no elec or running water. A summer spent at a PS mid-century condo…v dif experience, BLAZING hot as well…it’s all stunning. Wishing you a joyous spring…

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