Some time ago, I came across this painting by Salvador Dali, which he titled “Madonna of the Birds.” I found it deeply appealing; the use of colour is gentle, and somehow the devotion between the people comes through beautifully. But more than anything I love its ambiguity; is there a woman? Or is that a trick of the eye, looking at a random assortment of objects and trying to make sense of it in the mind?
It seemed to me to say something profound about faith. Sometimes we see what seems to be clear evidence, unmistakable, like looking at the woman’s foot in Dali’s painting. At other times, our faith is shaken by life events and seems as if it will fly apart at any second, like the birds in the air. Real? Imaginary? Just ambiguous enough to make us think, doubt, ponder? When you stack them all up, faith’s claims can look like that.
While I am certain of my own faith, I like to be reminded that that certainty isn’t a logical necessity, or the inevitable response of everyone around me. This picture reminds me of that. It helps me to remember that faith is a matter of possibility, trust, and imagination (in a positive sense), and that it is these things which we need to engage, to invite faith in others.
I doubt that Dali set out to paint an icon, in the traditional sense of the word, but in his work I sense something of God, and so I keep coming back to it, and finding in it subtle hints to better understanding myself, and the relationships of faith.