Like my last reflection, I’m going to treat this much like my personal blog and just work through/touch on issues that our Monday class explored that I personally found interesting.
First one of the disclaimers we had for Monday’s class is to be cautious of the impacts of the chronological proximity of the versions of the apparition stories we’re reading about the modernist twist they can have. This illuminated some tensions I was having with the texts not with the modern people writing about them but about the nearness of the events themselves to modernity. Where as I could read all the other apparition and visitation stories with a suspension of disbelief, I found myself constantly challenging the apparitions of La Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima partially because of their proximity to modern time. My mind easily accepts that in “ancient” times apparitions were certainly possible. If I didn’t, I couldn’t believe many of the stories of the Bible. Even the stories of knights and peasants of the middle ages I could stomach with a relatively low sense of doubt. But these stories, ground against my nerves. In my mind, apparitions and the like are tales of days well past that I don’t need to consider the reality of because the time difference allows me to separate my reality from theirs. But, especially twentieth century apparitions, I find to be too close for comfort. One of the major reasons for this is the media and fame that came along with these tales, a symptom, no doubt of modernity.
One thing that struck me the most about these apparitions were not the press writing articles. With the current impact of the newspapers and blogs on people’s opinions and knowledge as well as their ability to distort and spread the information rapidly through those means is not lost on my understanding of the effect of the press during the early twentieth century. Yellow journalism anyone?? Although less advanced and slower, people were perhaps more limited, less jaded to, and more reliant on the information they took in through their available media. This isn’t what surprised me most about the media coverage. What surprised me most were the photo graphs of the children. Photographs place them in the range of time I consider to be relatable technologically to my current time what with photography and industry. Since then we’ve been advancing through the “take a picture or it didn’t happen” age. What a fascination we have with the visual for historical documentation and proof. Pictures overcome the language barrier, as well and play up the emotions of the viewer. Who wouldn’t believe the innocent, poor children looking back at you? The devout and simple looking Bernadette? What an impact these pictures could have had. What a game changer they could be!
And now we’ve touched a few times on the believability of these apparitions. Part of me wants to believe these children so very much because they are in a situation where they have little to gain from having these visions. They are too young to want power, refuse monetary compensation, and know little beyond their daily prayers. They couldn’t understand the impact of what they have seen. They couldn’t make something like that up for attention. It’s too coherent, too many details to remember and too many times to perform under pressure. It seems like a natural choice for Mary to choose young, poor children for this role. After all, they still believe in “magic” of sorts and won’t immeadiately deny the apparition trying to rationalize it like an adult would. Children have a level of trust and faith in their naïve innocence that adults cannot muster. This is also why adults have so much trouble believing children. Not only are they naturally cynical about such things but they know how susceptible and naïve children are to the world. That innocence that makes them so perfect for receiving apparitions also makes them unreliable sources in a way. The poverty aspect plays up on a sense of pity on the surface level and deeper justifies why they would be the ones to see this apparition. To experience so much suffering in such a short time and giving this suffering to the lord which they tend to do would make them perfect examples of those virtuous people who suffer more on earth to receive more in heaven. Martyrs of sorts.
However, I distinctly remember challenges I faced dealing with my younger sisters when they were at similar ages as Melanie, Maxmin, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. The older of my two younger sisters lied. She told elaborate stories and the more she did it the better she got, being able to cover up her tracks and manipulate me into believing her ridiculous tales. She would speak a made up language for multiple days and have imaginary friends that could last months. The youngest could play alone for an entire afternoon, talking to people we couldn’t see, making up games and the likes. My roommate told me a story about how when she was a child she convinced her entire class that a girl who moved away had died and that in order to bring her back they had to use a stone she had found. To this day, only one person in her class ever found out it was a lie. As I mentioned before, children have incredibly intense and well developed imaginations that are capable of imagining and sustaining a made up story much longer than any adult could possibly allow their rational selves to even think about.
Three things keep me on the side of believing that the children had a real religious experience; one, they didn’t accept gifts and seemed to not gain anything for their troubles, they maintain consistent to the day they died about their stories, and they appeared to be so incredibly devout that it would be so ludicrous to them to even consider being heretic enough to lie about the Virgin. In an even more general sense, who are we to say what is or is not a religious experience for someone? If it deepened their faith or brought them some answers or direction then it is believable enough for me. The problem comes in when they have something to say to other people, a message or direction because then it impacts more than just their personal faith and we have to evaluate the validity of their experience because humans in general have tendencies to manipulate people for power by using religious revelations.
One aspect I found rather fascinating was the obsession with the appearance of Mary. It seems completely rational to me that she should appear in many different forms as would allow her to relay her message the best rather than which form is most true to who she was physically during her lifetime. If she’ll have a greater impact being tall and imposing as she was in the New World apparitions, then she’ll choose tall. If she wants to be relatable she might choose to reflect the age and general demeanor of the person she is appearing to, like Bernadette. It seems entirely reasonable, especially under the modern customs of advertising a message to people. It’s all about tailoring it to their needs. This makes me wonder though, is it the frame of modern times that finds this shifting of appearance so natural. The ability of Mary to show many different faces could easily be discomforting to people who thought of her in only one manner, the one created by the Church. The shape shifting concept is a little science-fiction-esque. I’d think that people who were so comfortable with the concept of ghosts and faeries would be fine with the idea of Mary. Speaking of this fascination with the spiritual world, there seems to be a strong impulse from the people present at apparitions to witness the witnesses to try to explain the apparition in terms of the spiritual realm. But why is that so much more believable than a religious apparition? Why would they rather the girl is seeing ghosts than Mary? Perhaps because they had cures for ghosts and ghost sightings were more normal. But were religious apparitions really that much of a novelty? Perhaps it was just a way of crossing off all the possibilities, starting with the curable ones, the ones that wouldn’t require a complete reordering of one’s understanding of their religious world.
Regardless, I still don’t know who I believe or don’t believe if I believe anyone at all. I’m inclined to believe based on faith but my modern experiences won’t let me entirely. These readings are so uncomfortable to read because they create so many contradictions and tensions so that I can’t figure out whether to read them as miraculous myths or non-fiction biographical material.
Did anyone else have these tensions? If you did, how did you resolve them? If you didn’t, why not?