What is this thing? No, really! What is this?

The other day a priest friend and I went steeple-chasing – to visit churches in the area that I had not yet seen.

At one place, where there is – or was, at least – the presence of Sinsinawa Dominicans we saw this curious objet.

The back.


The front.


The center part.


I am not entirely sure what this is, so I thought I’d open it up to the readership.

It might be Sophia giving birth to the World Soul over the deep primal waters in the beneath… rather like what the LCWR is into.

Any other guesses?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Art says:

    Looks like new age nutty fruitcake with a touch of sanskrit.


  2. Maltese says:

    Awww! The Sinsinawa Dominicans, of “Nuns for Choice” fame. I suspect this gaia is giving birth to something, decidedly not human.

  3. Lutgardis says:

    Well, the top part is the logo of the Rebel Alliance from Star Wars: http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130925162958/disney/images/archive/b/b4/20130925205203!Rebel_Alliance_logo.svg.png

    So it’s a subtle expression of their oppression by some unnamed “Evil Empire”?

  4. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    I see things organized into “threes” and encompassed by rings. This shows best in the photo from the back. (Three rings for the elven-kings under the sky?) But the bottom ring seems to encompass large evil fish… Also, there are three insets into the light colored brick wall.

    It’s quite a stumper.

  5. Thomas S says:

    If I were to take a serious guess at what it’s creator no doubt thinks a very serious contribution to the arts, I would say it’s a depiction of the Creation account. The Father is top center with the (apparently subordinationist, based on their relative sizes) Logos and Spirit swooping down over the deep. The fish are in the water and I suppose that mess in the inner circle is everything else. The red figures in the middle are doubtlessly representative of the oppressive patriarchy covered in the blood of minority populations.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    I don’t recognize the location, and as to what it is, maybe the large light blue ring delineates between the sky and the sea, and the smaller dark blue ring delineates the boundary between the sea and the earth. The birds are outside the large blue ring because they are in the air, and the fishes are inside the ring because they are in the sea. The inner sphere is plants and animals on the land? The large person with halo (in Dominican habit possibly?) transcends earth and heaven. I don’t care for modern art. Alternatively, the person and the two birds also could represent the Trinity since they all seem to have halos. I’m interpreting that this is a weird sculpture that I don’t care for but doesn’t necessarily have any heterodox meaning. But, the thing about ambiguity is that someone else could interpret it as whatever they want. I am sure other readers will come up with explanations further afield.

  7. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    All shiny metal clangy things,
    Flat, pointy, edgy, springy springs,
    Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
    O hula hoop, with trac’ry traced,
    E’en wider than the pastor’s waist,
    O-o praise it, O-o praise it, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
    What’s it toooo ya?

    Consider now the catching pot,
    and shapes that would vex Mandelbrot,
    Hallelujah! Hallelujah
    red iron thingy hanging there,
    birds swooping down, a steely pair!
    We confuse you, we amuse you, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
    What’s it tooooooooo ya?

    We modernists like modern crap,
    ce-ment and i-ron, and burlap,
    Halllelujah! Hallelujah!
    There’s no accounting for our taste,
    just give us lots of cash to waste,
    It’s a windchime, it’s a statement, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
    What’s it toooooooooooooooo ya?

    [You never disappoint. It would be great were someone’s choir to record this for the blog, with organ. Anyone?]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. Alanmac says:

    This is a Lesser, but not a Minor, Swirly.

  9. Sonshine135 says:

    My first (serious) impression or interpretation was that it was supposed to be Jesus walking on water, but if so, where is Peter? Just a bunch of fish and a couple of lobsters or shrimp. I am inclined that it is inspired by the Great Swirly.

  10. Gregg the Obscure says:

    The red piece in the center looks like an amalgamation of three of the Sanskrit symbols for chakras as seen here: http://fineartamerica.com/blogs/beautiful-sanskrit-yoga-seven-chakra-symbols-spiritual-artwork.html

  11. GAK says:

    In the North country, this is target practice. Probably in Texas, too.

  12. Maximilia says:

    I have to say, that brick pathway is magnificent!

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I don’t know, but it looks fishy.

    On the other hand, it inspired Fr. Ferguson to more of his musical stylings, so it wasn’t a total waste of money and materials. (And to be fair, it’s not ugly. Just unidentifiable and apparently pointless.)

  14. HyacinthClare says:

    Father Ferguson and GAK, you are HEROES today! You make me laugh!! Fr. Z, don’t they need gold stars or something?? Fr. F, when I was an Episcopalian long ago, I really did love that hymn. It all comes back so easily…

  15. Muv says:

    It’s a rabbit scarer. I could do with it to keep them off my beans.

  16. The Masked Chicken says:

    Obviously, this was the work of a Star Trek: Voyager fan. Kes was the pixie-like Ocampan from the first three seasons ofbthe series. Ocampan women deliver their young from openings in their back. The sculpture is obvious, when seen from that perspective…

    or, it could be a depiction of a very rotund priest. Don’t you see the biretta at the top?

    Rorshach (sorry for the mispelling) tests can be fun.

    The Chicken

  17. APX says:

    Fr. Ferguson’s parody needs a pipe organ and a choir. Someone! Please! Put your talents to good use!

  18. Someone please be the Garrigue says:

    Sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly.

  19. tzard says:

    Those are the documents of Vatican II flapping on their book spines above a circle of media scrutiny surrounding a mass of confusion. (Are those people in the middle trying to swim the choppy waters?)

    Leviathans of the deep are waiting below to reinterpret the writings. A cup at the bottom is attempting to catch what’s left, but is falling over while trying.

    That’s they were trying to say, right?

  20. hmf10 says:

    The commenters here are so delightfully clever, I agree that prizes should be awarded. And I hope this is a first in a series. Even by liberal standards these interpretations are as justified as any other, and way funnier.

  21. Russ Bower says:

    I think it is the trinity, plus some other stuff, like creation?

  22. TWF says:

    I’m sure certain liberal clergy and religious just love this stuff…as well as their very small, very elite inner circle of lay liberal “leaders” who sit on the parish councils etc. of such parishes. But the average Joe in the pews? No way they appreciate such rubbish. Even in the most liberal of parishes.

  23. Auggie says:

    Hermeneutic of Swirl?

  24. Robert_H says:

    What is it?

    Looks like about a buck-fifty worth of Junk Shop Extrusion to me.

  25. mysticalrose says:

    The flying nun, inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes a really good catch of fish . . . Which is destined for the frying pan at the bottom?

  26. Bosco says:

    A Mennonite woman hanging out her laundry beside a trout stream.

  27. GypsyMom says:

    The entrance to a Chinese aquarium?

  28. Often, people donate things that have to be displayed so that no one’s feelings are hurt. This is probably one such thing.

  29. OlderCatholic says:

    Public sculpture is almost always terrible. This one is no exception. I can’t believe anyone is trying to distill “meaning” out of it. What it probably means is that someone donated it along with money which was otherwise useful, and the recipient didn’t want to offend the donor.

  30. Ed the Roman says:

    Sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly.

    I gotta love one woman ’til I die.
    To Ed or Dick or Bob,
    She’s just another slob,
    But to me, well,
    She’s My Girl.

  31. gracie says:

    This is so easy. Reading from top to bottom:

    The square in the circle represents “squaring the circle”, symbolizing the existential giving of meaning where there is none.

    The 3 pieces of steel together is “pi”, symbol of infinity.

    The light blue circle is a hula hoop, symbol of innocence.

    The inner circle is the emblem of the United Nations, symbol of experience

    The two metal icons off to the side are the holy spirit lighting birthday candles. There are 2 h.s.’s to symbolize the duality of god – one lighting our birth, the other lighting our death.

    On a macro level, the entire set up is a gong, calling us to meditate on the Tao.

    Oh yes – the red circles in the middle are brass knuckles, symbol of the encircling of our aggressive life force by the pacific nihilism of the eternal.

    You show you get it by repeating ‘Om’ until you fall over.

  32. Michael_Thoma says:

    There must have been a funnel cloud touched down near the old junkyard, picked up all this s.crap and dropped it; mercifully, those two inverted tent spikes got jammed into the ground and prevented all that stuff from crashing through those glass doors.

  33. KateD says:

    This is obviously two Geonosian starfighters coming in for an attack at different angles…. And then an alien in I Dream of Jeanie pants dancing on two different sized hula hoops encircling a demolished deathstar with two sideways bliss symbols in the center….which all makes perfect sense until you get to the three laughing sharks at the bottom, which is just weird~

  34. benedetta says:

    Squinting I was able to make out a great…metal…swirly…

  35. glennbcnu says:

    It is a bunch of pieces of metal welded together…that is all…nothing here to see…move along, move along…

  36. Bea says:

    My first thought: A dream catcher?
    My second thought: probably a nightmare catcher.
    Maybe it’s just a dinner gong: Dinner is served!
    From the back side you can distinguish your choices:
    Fish, shark, chicken or worm (The early bird catches the worm, as you can distinguish from the back)

  37. Kathleen10 says:

    Father Timothy, that was really good! I enjoyed all the opinions. All I could make out was a bird nose-diving onto a pointy column and extremely jagged fish.

  38. mwa says:

    Ed the Roman,
    but is she the girl you gave up Lent for?

  39. Someone please be the Garrigue says:

    Those red thingies: verre de vase.

  40. Nicolas Bellord says:

    It’s a tin-opener.

  41. Grumpy Beggar says:

    From the OP :
    “It might be Sophia giving birth to the World Soul over the deep primal waters in the beneath… rather like what the LCWR is into.”


    The Masked Chicken says:
    . . .”or, it could be a depiction of a very rotund priest. Don’t you see the biretta at the top?

    . . . tests can be fun.”


    I didn’t study – I didn’t know there was going to be an exam.

  42. q7swallows says:

    Tin Snip Snow-FLAKE Surprise Bubbles

    [ Fr. Timothy Ferguson & GAK: A+ ]

  43. AttiaDS says:

    Seriously? You all can’t see this? My guess: Christ Ressurected. It symbolizes Fishers of men (thus the fish below him in the world).

  44. defreitas says:

    I tried very hard to see if I could place this within Christian iconography, conjectured, tied a couple of options but failed. If it is unrecognizable as Christian imagery, then it is nothing more than the equivalent of a pagan idol. Where is there a good vandal when you need one?

  45. RobW says:

    Don’t know what it is but its ugly as heck. Visited St. Peter the Apostles church at St. John Neumann’s shrine in Philly yesterday…nothing like this there, thank You Lord.

  46. Bea says:

    Actually I did see this and a couple of doves and the “fish” captured in smaller rings like “cast into the deep”. Maybe the sharks represent unscrupulous lawyers who are “caught” and have now repented.
    But it must be insulting to God to be thus depicted.
    Besides, the conjectures were a lot more fun.

  47. Charivari Rob says:

    I agree with Bea’s first thought: It’s a dreamcatcher.

  48. CradleRevert says:

    Isn’t that the machine used for inter-galactic transportation from the movie “Contact”?

  49. The Cobbler says:

    Wait — how can you tell which side is the back?

    “The 3 pieces of steel together is “pi”, symbol of infinity.”
    Nah. Infinity’s symbol is a sideways eight (which, I’ve been given to believe, is supposed to depict a mobius strip). If there were math involved here, even I would recognise it.

  50. fishonthehill says:

    It’s a poorly manicured garden….something has grown out of the bushes and should be cut down.

  51. Manducat in the hat says:

    Whatever it is, I’m sure it would make a nice “ping” when struck by copper-jacketed projectiles. If struck in the right order, the different tones play “All Are Welcome.”

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  52. Kat says:

    I remember having to report on the garden’s dedication and blessing. I had an opportunity to speak with the artist and didn’t really understand a word he was saying, so I put some rather vague quote from him in the article. As we were leaving, my husband (who had come along in curiosity) told me he thought the top part of it was the Rebel symbol from Star Wars. I’m pretty sure he’s right.

    If you think this one is fun, check out St. Peter’s on the northeast side. Its garden is chock full of weird sculptures.

  53. MrsMacD says:

    Y’know. I’ve heard that people avoid looking at things that they don’t like. It seems to me that I can’t look at this. Maybe it’s cursed. Make something creepy. Curse it. Call it something it’s not. Make people feel like they have to display

  54. MrsMacD says:

    Where did the rest of my comment go?

    …it out of charity. It does the oposite of a beautiful statue that lifts the heart and mind of men to lofty things. It drags the heart to thoughts if base and earthly things.

  55. NBW says:

    It’s so ugly that it has left me speechless. If it could be used as target practice I think it would be useful. But then again that would be wasting a bullet.

  56. Mike says:

    A swirly of the first class, with octave. After the octave, one hopes, fodder for the recyclers.

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