Michelangelo and my kids will haunt me


'The Pieta' by Chris Johnston

As Copenhagen looms on the horizon like a giant apocalyptic festival I can’t get Michelangelo and my kids out of my mind. When I read about climate change, about the experiences of those in the developing world who disproportionately face more than their fair share of its effects, the image of ‘The Pieta’, the mother holding her dead son, keeps appearing over the words. Michelangelo’s masterpiece was more than a genius crafting flesh from cold stone.  

I have given birth four times and each time was taken to the gates of hell to bring beauty into the world. Motherhood is no hallmark card. Everyday the skin of your inner self: of your precious identity, dreams and ideas are shaved away by a sharp knife until you face the world a naked, red, wobbling mess of flesh. Motherhood can take everything from you, but the strange thing: biological, primal, and magical, is that you would give your life to hold those babes to your chest and in the end, in the midst of the chaos of weetbix, cut knees, and sleepless nights, there are moments of pure wonder where the embeddness of the child to the mother extends to the whole darn universe. Ironically, despite these small things depending on you, most days, nothing really depends on you. For the power of the mother to control her environment, the safety of her children, depletes as soon as the child is born, diluted by the dangerous and inspiring ‘us’ outside the womb.  

The mother’s worst fear is to hold a dead child in her arms but all those who have loved know the same fear. The woman in ‘The Pieta’ didn’t know that times would change. She didn’t know that resurrection was possible; for in the fleshy world, all she saw was that everything she lived for lay in a dead heap over her live body. Her future was murdered. Taken from her by forces beyond her control. That’s how I feel about climate change.  

As far as we know we’ve only got one planet. It feels like its survival depends on us, yet at the same time we feel powerless to stop the carnage. This existential state is not limited to motherhood. The sense that the self is under threat because all that we love is being annihilated by forces beyond our control is common as muck. It is part of growing up, it is part of being human and that is why ‘The Pieta’ speaks to more than the literal mothers. The mother is not the earth. The mother is not the stoic breeder blessed with a special care gene. That the mother contributes to relationships and, all too often, is in charge of the ‘caring’, does not exclude anyone else from doing so. My experience of motherhood has confirmed many aspects of the metaphor, but it is not exclusively to breeders. Every male and female, atheist and believer, parents and non-breeders, tree, horse, and in between, is The Pieta. All creation is metaphorically lying across our lap. Is it dead yet?  

If everyone at the Bella Center in Copenhagen in December was overwhelmed by the sorrow of ‘The Pieta’, the sorrow of the powerless, then the outcome would be brutal. Emissions would be cut by 100% the next day. We would be thrown into war-time mobilisation because everything we thought we had created would seem irrelevant compared to the pain millions of ‘The Pieta’s’ were facing. Economies would go into transitional panic. Monies would be diverted to the developing nations at the coalface. Whole industries would collapse and geopolitics would be thrown into a spin. This will not happen because ‘The Pieta’ being inscribed in every mind at that table is too revolutionary a thought, too irrational, and too sentimental.  

‘The Pieta’ is not only art that speaks to our times. Munch’s ‘The Scream’ was partly inspired by the artist’s anxiety at the ‘infinite scream passing through nature.’ The best selling novel ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy sketches the existential horror of a father protecting his son from a post-apocalyptic landscape. Those in the arts are encouraged to distil the present and write the future. One can only hope that politicians feel a fraction of this sentiment and not relegate this vocation to the artists, the romantics, the storytellers, and the sorrowful mother hiding in many of us.  

Some say after calamitous climate change the earth will go on. Once the fuss has died down the earth will take back its territory, perhaps in a different form, with different species and different foliage. For this thing lying across our lap is far bigger than the human and until I know that, if my small mind can ever really know that, Michelangelo and my kids will haunt me. 

Bronwyn LayBronwyn Lay is an Australian writer living in France who has a background in law and political theory.



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Thank you Bronwyn for the thought provoking, passionate response of a mother to an issue that confronts us all.
MR Clark | 23 November 2009

The power in Bronwyn's writing must be the gift of the feminine to inspire and if the males take it up, then beauty is shared.

Michelangelo didn't invent the pieta image, it was women.

When the Black Death was ravaging Europe in the 13th - 15th centuries, men formed themselves into penitent groups, whipping hemselves in public demonstrations of repentance, askig for God's intervention and protection.

The women couldn't publicy organise as such and spent hours and hours in churches praying, entreating.

In a small village somewhere in the Flemmish locale, some women grew particularly anxious and invaded their local church, removing the statues and carrying them out into the fields and holding the statues up in the air, they offered their anguished cries in prayer.

Artists from that time captured, to, as Bronwyn writes "distil the present and write the future.'

The result, Mercy, or pieta.

Thanks Bronwyn for the powerful inspiration. May we all work to distil what you have said about the present so as to be open to the mercy that will surely come in the resurrection of the planet.
Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 23 November 2009

Bronwyn writes with much poignancy about motherhood but I think she misses the point about the Pieta. The Virgin Mary held her Son because the world refused to acknowledge that His kingdom was NOT one of THIS WORLD,that he came from another invisible world, whose love was to be made manifest in this one.

Reducing emissions will not solve the spiritual pollution and spiritual drought of this world. The greatest ecological crisis facing humanity is the 50 million [at a conservative estimate] killed through abortion each year - surely? If we cannot help mothers in distress with unexpected pregnancies what will reducing the emissions do? Our human species is threatened by the killing of our unborn - for each one is made in the image of God. the bond between mother and child is much more seriously threated by this than by an emissions level. The Virgin looked beyond this world in her melancholy gaze for she perhaps knew that people were bound to ignore the grandeur of the world beyond and the greatness of her Son, because they are too concerned with the kingdoms of THIS world, the climate of THIS world, physical pollution - and not the spiritual realities that underpin them.
Skye | 23 November 2009

Thankyou for expressing our collective angst and sorrow-humanity-Bronwyn,Yes,I am feeling the chaotic and catastrophic deep inside and as my son tells me we are all connected at the conscious level, made of the same material as stars, plants,insects-we all the same energy of (God)life.

He is reading the Divine Matrix (Gregg Braden) and has bought me my own copy. This book is the way to live and become fully aware of life.Positive energy is a way of transforming;we all have this knowledge from ancient heritage and our DNA holds it all. I share all you have described Bronwyn,perhaps it's time to use the ancient and real power of prayer.
Catherine | 23 November 2009

Thank you Bronwyn for a very powerful message!
Patrick William Andrew Speed | 23 November 2009

Bronwyn muat certainly be one of those young people who, in their multitude, joined in several thousand world wide events in nearly 200 countries during October to demand a 'binding climate change deal' which would demonstrate justice and equity.

Tim Flannery who was recently in Canada was quoted by Canadian journalist Brian Liily with the following statement;"We all too often mistake the nature of those negotiations in Copenhagen. We think of them as being concerned with some sort of environmental treaty.That is far from the case. The negotiations now ongoing towards the Copenhagen agreement are in effect diplomacy at the most profound global level. TheY deal with every aspect of our life and they will influence every aspect of our life, our economy, our society, our relationship with the develoing world, our relationship with the environment as well".

The greatest benefit that will come from Copenhagen is the economic justice that will flow from the 23 developed countries, whose governments will support both financially and scientifically the developing countries, whose needs have long been denied.
Claude Rigney | 23 November 2009

Bronwyn, I suggest you read the thoughts of former British Chancellor Lord Lawson in the London Times of this morning. Here is a snippet..."Moreover, the scientific basis for global warming projections is now under scrutiny as never before. The principal source of these projections is produced by a small group of scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), affiliated to the University of East Anglia.

Last week an apparent hacker obtained access to their computers and published in the blogosphere part of their internal e-mail traffic. And the CRU has conceded that the at least some of the published e-mails are genuine.

Astonishingly, what appears, at least at first blush, to have emerged is that (a) the scientists have been manipulating the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend; (b) they have consistently refused outsiders access to the raw data; (c) the scientists have been trying to avoid freedom of information requests; and (d) they have been discussing ways to prevent papers by dissenting scientists being published in learned journals.
There may be a perfectly innocent explanation. But what is clear is that the integrity of the scientific evidence on which not merely the British Government, but other countries, too, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claim to base far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions, has been called into question. And the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished. A high-level independent inquiry must be set up without delay"...

I believe that Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull would be well advised to declare an immediate Christmas break and agree to reconvene after the high-level Lawson enquiry has delivered its findings post Copenhagen.

Global warming may well remain but it seems that the future of AGW is very unclear. The integrity of the East Anglia CRU is under a cloud. This is a terribly serious matter.

Rosemary | 23 November 2009

Bravo, Skye! I fully agree with and endorse your views. I fear that too many people who write about the environment worship creation and not the One who created it. You pointed back to the great mystery that should be the starting point for all Christians, namely the Word made flesh that was crucified and that rose again.

Too many Christians have more in common with New Age or pagan views. I am not sure what Catherine is saying in her post. But if she contends that all animal life is of equal value, then I must beg to differ. Humankind is the pinnacle of creation, we alone were made in the image of our God.

I have not read the Divine Matrix or any works by Gregg Braden. I have not ever even heard of him. But for anyone who professes to be Christian, the chief book by which we are transformed are the scriptures, more properly, by the One that they proclaim.
John Ryan | 23 November 2009

Bronwyn Lay's cry in the wilderness of greed and avariciousness will remain unheard. The only thing that we all have left is change the governments we have, not simply by changing our votes but by doing everything we can within our power to ensure that our every day lives will extend the inevitable; change our habits, remove our personal wants and live by the golden rule of reusable energies. If all communities join hands and commit themselves to do this, even governments will listen. We begin from the simplest act of conserving our daily energy consumption. Keep the words, act now!
Alex Njoo | 23 November 2009

John, Gregg Braden speaks of energy (God), now measurable in quantum physics. He is a scientist and has also studied ancient faiths including the dead sea-scrolls. He writes of ancient knowledge, in different cultures all having similar stories and knowing the divine inter- connectedness and spiritual powers Jesus spoke of and displayed. He focuses on the bible and its foundation of truth. I feel we are seeing chaos which was foretold long ago. Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life; new life, transformation is what he spoke about. There is so much more to the whole story. I'm sorry I can't explain this, you'll have to read his books. People all over the world are feeling fearful with so much chaos, and Bronwyn expressed it so clearly.
catherine | 25 November 2009

Skye!! Brilliant!!

I'm not qualified to reach a conclusion on global warming. I've studied the issue as a reasonably intelligent non-scientist for a long time (15 years) (too long?) and can't for the life of me see how a couple of extra degrees (if that's indeed what will happen- I doubt it will be more) won't help improve the lot of most people in the world, to say nothing of plant life with the extra CO2.

But you've put it in perspective. Tearing our garments over climate change possibilities while the Monstrous Murderer you've dared to name decimates our communities now would be like the citizens of Nazi Germany sacrificing themselves to prevent the creation of the autobahns (The forests! No, no, not the forests!)but turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.

Not saying that's the way it was then.

But it IS what is happening now. In spades.

You know how liberals in their overstuffed leather chairs wring their hands over Pius XII?

"Of course, if I had been Pius XII, I would have ... blah blah blah....pass me the sherry, there's a good thing."

"Pardon me, but aren't more babies being slaughtered intentionally NOW than humans will ever be killed for sure - even unintentionally - by your climate change scenarios? - let alone Hitler's crimes?"

"What's that? ... 'nother sherry please."

Thank you, Skye, again.
Hugh | 26 November 2009

No self respecting liberal drinks sherry, except when visiting grandma..
bronwyn lay | 27 November 2009

Bronwyn, good shot ... but I'll have to take your word on it.

(Perhaps it takes a grandma to ask the question?)

Hugh | 27 November 2009

This grandma doesn't drink sherry! Go girl. Bron, thanks for the passion in your article and may God deeply bless you and all young people with similar good intentions. The recent Parliament of the World Religions in Melbourne including the Dalai Lama correctly linked spirituality and ecology.
Wendy | 15 December 2009


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