European visitors to the Philippines in the twilight of the Spanish colonization often noted the exotic, often 'excessive' devotion of the native people to the saints-- they bowed and knelt before statues, wiping its face, hand, feet, and sides with handkerchiefs in broad, sweeping motions, and often placed wreaths and garlands of flowers upon the saint's image. The devotion to the Santo Entierro-- the dead Christ-- often reached feverish heights in some places, such that pulling the ropes of the image's carriage was often seen as a fountain of innumerable graces. Even today, many processions still retain a certain awe to inspire even the most brazen of non-believers. I've blogged enough about the Black Nazarene, the Lord of Quiapo, whose procession every January 9th attracts, in some cases, up to a million people, rich and poor alike. They go about their panatas solemnly and yet at the same time with a sense of merriment that could only be called medieval.
The educated Spaniards and their mestizo illustrado counterparts called this show of excessive piety 'una devocion horrorosa', decrying the superstitious facade of many of these celebrations. Looking at the image above, the children are grasping the arms and hands of the Lord; some are taking pictures, some are blessing themselves, some are content just to be able to witness the scene. Christianity is a religion, first and foremost, of a Person; a Person can love, can be angry, can be merciful, is. Logically, of course, a Person can be the recipient of love and devotion, because only another Person is able to comprehend and return these things. You can't have a devotion to a Book, however lovely and beautiful it is, because it does not understand things like love, beauty, and truth. At best, they are just repositories of it.
Those people above have had their lives shaped by the face of Christ, that sweet, melancholy face fraught with all the bitterness and hatred of the world, and yet still manages to be a refuge to even the most desperate. They kiss and wipe and touch His cheek every Good Friday and kiss and wipe and touch His cheek as a newborn babe on Christmas day. These are people who grew up with the haunting image of the God-Man's face etched in the deepest recesses of their hearts and guts. As someone wise once said, the Bible is perhaps the most beautiful book in all of creation-- it is God's personal love letter to us-- but remains a letter nevertheless. To love another person necessarily transcends the boundaries of the spoken and the written, its communication distilled to its purest in the silences and sighs that span the space between seconds, and cover the whole of eternity. To love is its own reward, and there could be no more greater one than it.
At the end of the day, whom would you rather trust: the one who knows the love letter by heart, or the one who has actually loved? These are things that we have largely forgotten, and desperately need to remember.