Monday, November 26, 2012

fig leaves

It was several Roman Catholic popes who elevated the fig leaf to literal and metaphorical grandeur, covering the genitalia of a number of offending artworks in the Vatican. Christianity as exemplified by the church hierarchy did a serious number on what was once considered "heroic nudity."

But what may have been inspired by the church during the Renaissance could hardly have lasted without the complicity of others who had a similar sense of everything from evil to eeeeuuuuuw.

And today the fig leaf has been bequeathed to one and all as a metaphor for covering up, for keeping secrets and for hiding things.

It is easy to notice that no matter how many clothes anyone puts on, still everyone is always naked. But strangely, the metaphor doesn't hold up in reverse ... that the more clothes anyone takes off the closer to nakedness they become.

People can wander around naked as a jaybird and still carry with them endless numbers of fig leaves. This is easy to see in others, but can be pretty dispiriting when viewed in the bathroom mirror of the mind: How many fig leaves do I insist on in life? How much do I make up stories as a means of not telling the honest story? Is there any aspect of this life in which I go for the gold -- full, frontal nudity? What exactly is so scary about getting undressed after I imagine I have gotten undressed?

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio,
before and after restoration. It was painted in 1425,
covered up in 1680, and restored in 1980.
How many tales do spiritual persuasions tell? Tales of monks, tales on nuns, tales of mythic beasts, tales of the wise, tales of the ignorant, tales of saints, tales of sinners, tales of gods, tales of goddesses, heavens and hells ....  The Hindus alone would make Minnesota's Mall of America look like a mom-and-pop shop. Even Johnny-come-latelies like Christianity and Judaism have tale upon tale, beauty upon beauty, encouragement upon encouragement... fig leaf upon fig leaf.

And there is something to be said for never staring directly into the sun. Sometimes looking somewhere else offers a better and more digestible view ... for the moment. Hope and belief, encouragement and inspiration, ritual and festival, tea and cookies after Sunday service ... spiritual persuasions are supposed to warm and succor, aren't they? And the answer from one point of view is yes.

But from another point of view, I think, there is some voice within that longs to know the source, the reason for all these fig leaves and tall tales, the honest essence of what, until now, has been merely believed in or extolled. This is not an arena in which anyone else can enter. This is my question and my longing in the same sense that yours is yours. No ... more ... fig leaves. Is there really something wrong with things as they are -- just naked. Is there really a need to tell tall tales... the ones that encourage and inspire and yet camouflage questions like, "Inspire and encourage for what?" or "Who is this god about whom so many pious tales are told?"

Is there some reason for me to search out fig tree after fig tree no matter how sweet the fruit?

It's a personal matter and a personal choice.

But I think it is one worth making. Fig leaves make for greater sex appeal, of course, but how much sexier does anyone need to be?

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