The cult of self
I have just returned from the captivatingly beautiful city of Venice. Everywhere you look there are magnificent vistas and little corners of artful dilapidation. Even as a keen photographer it is very hard to do it justice, and I opted for lots of details instead. You can see some of them here if you are interested.
That said, you cannot really take photographs of Venice without encompassing the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute. This magnificent structure, with its vast cupola, dominates the city’s skyline:
In 1630 it was agreed that if the city were saved from the terrible plague ravaging its population, such a church would be built. The city fathers were true to their word, and the church was constructed. It was an enormous undertaking, preceded by the insertion of over one and a half million wooden stakes into the bed of the Lagoon to form a platform on which it could be built – a process which took two years. Now it soars into the skyline, and plays host to works by Titian, Tintoretto and others.
When I sailed past it on a water bus last week, I watched a young woman try one, two, three and then four times to pose herself just right with her phone and selfie-stick to ensure that the Basilica formed the perfect backdrop to her smiling face. I wonder what the church’s architect, Baldassare Longhena would have thought of that? Such a magnificent place of worship serving only as pictorial wallpaper for a self-portrait might have caused him some concern, I think.
Don’t we sometimes make our places and times of worship all about us, though? We might draw the line at taking selfies during a service (I think) but nonetheless it is easy to slip into a form of worship where God shows up to meet our needs and we expect a certain kind of ‘soul-bump’ from the worship on offer.
If we do so, then it may just be that we are looking the wrong way.