I’m reading P.D. James’s Children of Men, and the novel is a remarkably different animal from the film, particularly in how it so richly grapples with faith. In a childless world where humanity quietly fades away, the protagonist tours Europe’s museums. James’s description of the Pietà captured my own brief glimpse of it three years ago:

“His keenest memory was of Rome, standing before the Michelangelo Pietà in St. Peter’s, of the rows of spluttering candles, the kneeling women, rich and poor, young and old, fixing their eyes on the Virgin’s face with an intensity of longing almost too painful to witness. He remembered their outstretched arms, their palms pressed against the glass protective shield, the low continual mutter of their prayers as if this ceaseless anguished moan came from a single throat and carried to that unregarding marble the hopeless longing of all the world.”

Almost too painful to witness. This phrase hammers the scene home and sparks absolute recognition. But where is the pain located? Is it a knee-jerk empathy response to another person’s weeping? Or does it stem from jealousy, a craving for my own focal point of devotion and a world made sensible through myth? The image of the Pietà occupies such a distinct place in memory that I often forget it translates to “the pity.”

Tim Hecker – Virginal II

Virgins | Kranky, 2013 | Bandcamp