Something About Angels


Saturday morning I was invited on a tour of the Madeleine church near Place de la Concorde. Our guide, a jovial Irish-American priest from Salem, Mass., beamed with pride as he told us stories about the monument’s history, architecture, and artworks, recounting Mary Magdalene’s role in the Christ story (with no mention of Dan Brown or the DaVinci code). He went on to describe the rescue center in the basement where those in need can wash their clothes, get new underwear and socks,  and a 1€ meal ticket to the Madeleine’s underground lunchroom, serving the neighborhood since the days when Coco Chanel had 4000 seamstresses working for her on nearby rue Cambon.  Pointing out the wiremesh Nativity scene by contemporary sculptor Pauline Ohrel, he explained how including  long-necked giraffes behind the manger scene honored the rebirth of all creation at Christmas.  Couldn’t take my eyes off a diaphanous star of Bethlehem and cloud-like angels floating above the cavernous nave.  By the way, said Father McCarthy, angels are neither male nor female… I had heard that before, but it took on new meaning as more and more people are questioning gender roles.

Late the next day, David Bowie passed away and I woke up to the news with the rest of the world on Monday morning. To fill the emptiness, I read posts and shares about his 700 songs, his impact on music, fashion and politics, his love story with Iman, how he designed his own death as an ultimate artistic gift. Many speculated on his sexuality: was he bi or transgressively straight? I kept thinking about angels, how every sacred tradition around the globe mentions spirit messengers between the Infinite and humankind, wondering if David Bowie, now more than ever, might be some sort of Pop angel.

(Pauline Ohrel’s Nativity, “Revelations” is on display at the Madeleine until February 2nd, 9:30am – 6pm)