Side Views

Reality, politics and our Lady of Subang — Alwyn Lau

November 22, 2012

NOV 22 — Some call her goddess. Some call her a sign. Some call her demonic. Others call her bird poop. I’m just glad she showed up. Our Lady of Subang, what I call the (apparent) apparition of the Virgin Mary on a Subang hospital’s window panes. Beauty in glass. For all her ambiguity, let’s agree she’s a better sight than an aristocrat waving a keris or a fat guy who loves horses but can’t dance or even Justin Bieber on his best day.

And yet the doubts persist. Is she nothing but a source of superstition? Is Our Lady of Subang (recently migrated to Klang, of course) merely a magnet for desperate religious folks craving for the irrefutable? Some have argued that she is there only because people “see” her there; the apparition, on this view, is no more significant than clouds resembling bored rabbits. It’s all constructed from imagination and a crowd’s desire to see what they (have always) want(ed) to see.

But is this right? Even without drawing a conclusion of the nature of the apparition, are the comments fair? I think not.

Don’t many Malaysians (some of whom could be among those who find ludicrous the idea of divine ambassador appearing in a pane) act and behave in ways MORE absurd yet tell themselves they’re being perfectly rational? 

For example, many who mock the worshippers praying outside the hospital simultaneously have no problem believing in the grandiose promises and practices of CEOs and business gurus, many of whom are usually one economic cycle away from losing everything. The entire economy feeds hope, vanity and pride to buyers who can never have enough and who will NEVER have enough because they have closed themselves off to the very idea of Enough. Is this not insane?

Really, what’s the difference between a woman praying to an apparent image in a window and another woman paying to make herself look like an image in a magazine? Isn’t there a resemblance between the man who stares in awe at an outline of a holy figure and another man who stares at management books or stock numbers like they were holy books promising new life? 

For every “foolish” person who revered the window likeness of Mary, aren’t there at least 10 more dumb get-rich-at-all-costs who go through life revering the likes of certain personalities.

Let me get this right: you’ve got millions, but you are STILL so discontented you must resort to scandal and betrayal to get more? And thousands of rat-racers adore you and want to learn from you?! If those praying outside the hospital have lost a grip on reality, let’s agree they’re hardly alone.

Our Lady of Subang, then, is not merely a divine symbol; she also symbolises how we “divinise” what is less than divine. In a world ruled by money, power and vanity, shouldn’t we welcome the visual mystery of a woman who trusted in one who loved her? Plus, anyone who’s read the Bible also knows that Mary’s Christmassy song (in the Gospel of Luke) has some pretty cool lyrics about corrupt governments getting kicked out of Putrajaya — a dimension often covered over by Christians more concerned about the expiry date of the log cake.

Speaking of politics, Our Lady has some lessons for election candidates. 1) Surprise the people 2) Be available day and night and 3) Don’t talk so much. 

Of course the apparition is “inconclusive”. But even if the image jumped out of the window and recited in Latin everything the Second Vatican Council agreed on, it’s hardly the case that Malaysia will turn Roman Catholic over night. Doubt — like its Siamese twin, Belief — comes to us seemingly hard-wired. This is why only one kind of group holds to the complete negation of doubt: fundamentalists. As for the rest of us? We’re sorta stuck with faith.

Faith. This is what Our Lady of Subang can mean for the country, not just Roman Catholics. She can be that enigma which represents what HAS TO but CANNOT be represented. She could mean the democracy we know our country’s leaders have smothered so badly even imagining it takes serious effort. She could mean the harmony among the races everybody pretends exists yet knows is weak if not impossible. She could mean equality and hope for the poor, hardly anything but a dream in a nation aroused by thoughts of the GDP growing 4.5 per cent. “In GDP We Trust” — who’s foolish now?

In a sense, Our Lady is like the people of Malaysia. Try to define “Malaysian” and it won’t be long before you have to say that a Malaysian is, well, someone in Malaysia who believes it’s important to be a Malaysian. Not much improvement beyond the word itself, but no less to be treasured for that. Likewise, there is no real need to “make” Our Lady do or mean more than she already has simply by appearing. She’s a surplus — way ahead of words.

Alternatively, she can mean none of the above. That’s what I like about Our Lady: she simply doesn’t know how to coerce or pressure people. She’s not out to tell you how deficient you are that a new shirt or shoe becomes a critical must-buy. She won’t scare you with tales of possible bodily harm such that buying insurance from her becomes a moral obligation. She has no interest in converting you to some dubious idea of Success which quietly crowds out everything else of importance.

Our Lady can mean nothing more than the joy of believing in something above ourselves. Still, even if you think the apparition is about as supernatural as weird keropok configurations at snack time, is it such a chore to marvel at the patterns the natural and the manufactured can produce? Like a rainbow, can’t we admire Our Lady for the answers she’ll never need to supply in order to be beautiful?

Should it be concluded, then, that our feminine apparition is “of God”? In the final analysis, I don’t think so. But you know what? I don’t think God minds.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.