William Ragsdale: The persistence of memory
In Milan, Italy there is a cathedral which has three portals/entrances. Over each portal there are three Latin phrases; translated into English they are: “All that pleases is but for the moment;” “All that troubles is but for the moment;” and finally over the center archway, “That only is important which is eternal.”
Actually today there are five entrances, so historically this story of three portals goes back in time before any additions. Also, like all stories it is from an oral tradition probably used as an outline for a sermon or homily.
Let’s think about those three phrases. First, “All that pleases is but for the moment.” There are so many things that are pleasing and pleasant in this world. We could mention the performing arts, music and the many types of food. Then we might add hobbies, gambling, sex, flowers, pets, alcohol, sweets and the list could go on and on.
Second, “All that troubles is but for the moment.” There is a gospel song titled “Trouble In My Way” by Luther Barnes that says it all. A list of troubles could begin with death that happens in families and in society from time to time, like shootings. We could add troubles from terrorism, natural disasters like fire/flood, abuse, bankruptcy, a flat tire, trouble in family and work relationships, and this list too could go on and on.
Finally, over the center portal, “That only is important which is eternal.” In St. Petersburg, Florida there is the Dali Museum built in 2011, a museum about the artistic work of a Catholic surrealist artist, Salvadore Dali. A dominant painting there is “The Persistence of Memory.” A more famous and recognizable painting of the same name is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Each painting shows three bent, melting watches, each one in a different landscape.
What are these paintings pointing to? What do they suggest? Say?
A faith/theological answer might be that they are pointing to a place where time is of no use, where time does not work, namely the other world, or heaven. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt. 6:19-21
This is the place we pray to be here on earth, in The Lord’s Prayer. It is the place where the creating God Almighty is and the risen/living spirit of Jesus is in us and among us in this world. May this continue daily in our memory.
It could be said that “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida is an example of living in this world and the other world at the same time. Essentially the bent watches, useless in this world, represent heaven or the other world while the landscape, which is this broken disintegrating world, represents creation forever changing.
And as creation is changing, we see a broken world and realize we too are broken and changing day by day.
William R. Ragsdale is retired from First UMC in Salisbury.