Statues in museums remind me of beautiful wild animals in zoos: they have been removed from their natural environments so that many folks who could not see them otherwise can have an idea of what they are. But museums and zoological gardens only give an approximation of the true nature of what is looked at.
I have never liked much to see animals prisoners behind bars. I always feel sad for them. I love going to museums and admire what I would never come close otherwise. Well, this was the case until I stood in front of a Ganesha and remembered my days in India when I learned of this generous and all powerful god.
Years ago, in a whim, I had prayed to Lord Ganesh. I found to my great surprise that my request had been granted. An Indian friend of mine explained then that Lord Ganesh cannot turned down a prayer. Possibly all prayers from all denominations and all corners of the planet end up in the same place. I don’t know. I trust in prayer, whether to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Anthony of Padua, Saint James (of Compostela fame), or Lord Ganesh.
All these receivers of prayers can be found in museums. How often, however, does one think of praying to the St James that can be seen on the ground floor of the Met?
What is the difference between Mary Mother of Jesus in the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris or in the Cloisters? Why would one pray in one place and not the other? Isn’t the statue representing the same holiness here or there?
This is what I felt the other day as I came upon this Lord Ganesh (I think). Suddenly, it was not just a museum piece standing there for my aesthetic and cultural pleasure. It was the representation of goodness incarnate, a God who can never say no to a prayer. So I bowed my head and prayed. I addressed my most heartfelt hope to the Remover of Obstacles. I felt a connection which I feel in churches and temples right there in the museum.
In the movie One Night At the Museum, the statues, animals, and scenes all become alive when the museum closes. What about the gods and goddesses, saints and holy women and men in all the world’s museums? Do they miss the place for which they were meant? Do they remember the prayers addressed to them, the ceremonies celebrated for them? Are they tamed forever once they are removed from their place of origin or do they remain just as sacred and powerful as they were before, in a reality of their own which we cannot even begin to imagine?
Art: Standing Ganesha, pre Angkor period, Cambodia, Metropolitan Museum of Art