Statues, Continued: Symbols Are Actions

Following up on Anthony Ruff’s post on statues . . .

An important point here is to consider that symbols are not static.

For example, statues (whether of Jefferson Davis or Mary Mother of God) are inert.  The creation and installation of the statues are actions from which the statue in question derives its symbolic meaning.  Apart from the intention and action of the sculptor and those who put the statue in place, the statue is just a hunk of plaster or metal that may or may not bear a resemblance to a particular person.

Let’s consider here the noose found in the Talladega race track garage used by NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, the sport’s only black driver at the highest level.  Although FBI investigators later concluded by way of video surveillance that the rope had been placed in that garage as early as 2019 and that whoever placed it there had no way of knowing that Mr. Wallace’s team would be using that site, in the immediate aftermath it was widely assumed that the placement of the rope was in fact a racist gesture.  Not the rope itself, but the *placement* of the rope: an action.  (For Mr. Wallace’s comments on the FBI finding, see here ).

Believing it to be unquestionably a racist gesture, every driver at Talladega and all members of their pit crews escorted Mr. Wallace’s #43 car to its starting place for the race.  Video of the event is here.  This video demonstrates the active nature of symbol.  Indeed, the video is even more striking when the voice-over is muted.

This active nature is a characteristic of all symbols including, and perhaps above all, the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is not inert.  What comes to presence in this symbol is not simply Christ as such but Christ-offering-self, the very offering-self of his entire existence, culminating on the Cross.  What is really symbolized is Christ’s intention to *be* life for the assembly.  Accordingly, when one receives Communion, what is also really symbolized is one’s intention to *be* life for others.  As St. Augustine famously remarked, “let your amen be true.”

2 comments

  1. Thanks, Timothy.
    As you write in your closing paragraph: “This active nature is a characteristic of all symbols including, and perhaps above all, the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not inert. What comes to presence in this symbol is not simply Christ as such but Christ-offering-self, the very offering-self of his entire existence, culminating on the Cross. What is really symbolized is Christ’s intention to *be* life for the assembly. Accordingly, when one receives Communion, what is also really symbolized is one’s intention to *be* life for others.”
    If I may spell it out a little further: the Eucharist is not “something” that we go to Mass to receive.
    When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me”, he was not saying to us (as I used to think as a child) that we should take bread and wine and say the formula over them.
    He was and is saying: “You are called to be bread broken and given for the life of the world. You are called to be blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. In doing this, you do it in memory of me: you are my faithful continued living presence in the world.”

  2. While most statues might be “inert” loci for prayer, some sacred images over time have also been active mediators of the work of God or the saints they represent. While we tend to think of statues of the Blessed Mother crying, there are other stories of images doing various things. Hawaii’s myrrh-streaming Ivaron icons are some of the latest: https://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.

    Do images become miracle-working because of the holiness of the artist, of the image itself, of the holy person petitioned, or the faith of the petitioners? It may be a mix of any of these.

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