Saturday 22 October 2016

Get Naked, Fanaticus

My husband and I were discussing St Francis of Assisi this morning over tea, as you do. Indulge me and travel back in time to the middle ages with me (in the case of the middle ages, I don’t need to travel back, I’m travelling forward at an alarming rate, but more on that in another post). It is around 1210 and life stinks, for all sorts of reasons apart from the lack of modern sanitation and there being zero deodorant. Francis, has tired of riotous living and has found God, and with Him, some peculiar and to his father, intolerable, ways. One day, in exasperation, (possibly due to Francis nicking quid from his father to rebuild old chapels), Francis's father hauled him in front of the local bishop in the hopes that he would quell his religious tendencies and order him to knuckle down and work for the family firm. Instead, Francis stripped naked and handed his clothes to his father in full view of the bishop (I know, its like an ale commercial). Henceforward, he would follow God completely.

I commented to my husband that Francis's behaviour could only have been carried out by an artist, a madman, or a religious fanatic. I have watched from the side of the stage at Reading (during my young and hot phase) whilst Flea from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, stripped naked and continued to play bass. He may even have done some handstands as I seem to recall, but given my own middle ages and my own former riotous living, I may be wrong on that point, but on the nakedness I am not. I have also seen mad naked men in my life, and the less said about this the better. My point is this: art, religion (in the mystical sense) and madness often run parallel to each other. For humanists (demi-gods unto themselves or indeed ourselves – how frightening, for me!) religionists are just plain nuts so this category is irrelevant to them and is muddled with the mad. It is only in recent times that the religious or better, the spiritual has been rendered off limits in the world of art, despite the art world being characterised by quite a few nutters. As a believer, or a creationist, a Jesus follower or whatever you want to call me, I often wonder where the ‘religious’ artists of our day are? Banished into the great hall of shame I suspect. Art in the institution of church is plain dull. Unlike Leonardo da Vinci or other great religious artists, they don’t seem to exist (sorry if you do exist, I just haven’t heard of you yet) in our culture apart from Charlie Mackesy, perhaps because their own rich narrative has been so scoffed at by the culturally prevailing humanistic mind set that is often narrow and toxic, and so unilluminating, unlike the best Christian or spiritual thought, and its beautiful narratives as seen say, in the parables of Jesus or the mystical experiences of Elijah or Daniel.

Anyway, back to Frank. Obviously, for followers and scholars of St Francis, he was, though not to his father, a fanatic in the best possible sense. According to my reliable source (Mrs Peggy Wikipedia), the word fanatic was, "introduced into English around 1550, and means "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion." It comes from the Modern Latin fanaticus, meaning "insanely but divinely inspired." The word fan, comes from this word (picture a screaming girl at a Beatles or One Direction concert). Hubster and me then launched into a discussion about being 'naked,' (not in the sense that you might be thinking, all though neither of us are adverse to that), but in the sense of being true to oneself in a world where cultural, familial and other concerns conspire to rob you of personal authenticity, and the various ways that people are conditioned to conform to something other than their true selves. 

We then discussed shame, and how pervasive it is. A theory came up: are people truly ashamed to be themselves for fear of being exposed as frauds? There is an inherent irony in this statement, but consider this: A child raised in a family or society whose narrative tells them that they are wrong in some way, will suffer shame on a deep level. This shame will hinder them being the person they were created to be (from a creationists perspective,) or the person they could be (if they had the confidence). We considered sources of shame and how pervasive this shame is and how scuppering in terms of a fully realised internal and external life and the connectedness thereof (and therefore authenticness!) and that people would be healthier and happier if they could trace intrinsic shame back to source and eliminate it.

My husband and I variously discussed bullying in schools and the bullying people receive due to appearance (women can sometimes receive this from other women) and cultural expectations thereof. Shame is ingested and bears fruit in all sorts of ways, but the deepest shame is stored at the core of self. Francis was extraordinary in his stand against the forces that railed against his authentic self. In stripping himself naked he declared to his father, the bishop, God and the world that he was going to live for God (and thereby for the gospel and the poor) and was going to forsake the world and all its constraints and seductions in order to be his true self. My husband and I got to thinking and discussing our own authenticity and what might constitute elements of ‘false self’ and our determination to live by the (we believe) God given coda of uniqueness and authenticity that is offered to each individual (creationistically speaking).

Hopefully, and hence, this adherence to living authentically will not give rise to the self-obsession that is characterised by our age - more on that later. Meantime: strip.