Photo Credit: REUTERS/Konstantin Grishin
The image is arresting and saturated with symbolism.
Two lines of make shift crosses and a string of shield-yielding riot police face off like stubborn teenagers.
The crosses installed by anti-government protesters memorialize the dead and missing during three months of protests with Ukrainian police.
The image is dark, brooding, menacing. We do not see the protestors - they have been replaced by one of the most ancient and sacred symbols - the cross.
The protest image – with its moment frozen in time, can at times be persuasive enough to make us feel empathy toward all sides in a conflict. In fact, images of this nature are part of a long legacy depicting conflict and suffering.
Can pictures really change us?
Can images, such as this one, move us enough to understand the ideological tensions brewing across Africa, the Middle East and now in the Ukraine?
Images of protest serve as witnesses to a world out of balance.
Images without words to describe them, however, lack the authority, credibility, capacity, richness and complexity of symbols. Images must be interpreted after we have processed them in our mind -- running them through an incubator of experiences and memories, which require a high-level of consciousness. However, often images that the cross and the guns have the stuff of statistics -- facts used to distort truth and meaning.
Images of suffering shape our thinking on an unconscious level. Perhaps, the juxtaposition of the crosses and the guns will haunt our dreams or appear to us in a state of wakefulness. Maybe the picture can make us more aware of how fortunate we are in the United States not to live under the ruthless thumb of authoritarianism.
Often we fear such pictures and deny their deeper symbolic meaning.
In a world bombarding us with images of need and suffering it is easy to distance ourselves from such truth.
Truth, after all, like justice, compassion, beauty, is just a notion – an idea.
Perhaps we can step into this frame -- into the space, political or not, allowing us to connect with such archetypal symbols as darkness and light, death and rebirth, or hopelessness and despair. Perhaps in this one image, we can find a common ground leading to meaningful discourse and change.
Even in faith apathy and denial appears seem to be pathological.
The Christian attitude toward suffering, Pope Francis explained in a recent homily, is “silence in endurance, silence in patience.” Like St. Maximilan Kolbe, Christians must recognize "the paradox of suffering by offering his own life as a share in the suffering of Christ."
The crosses in this image are not merely signs of protest, but as Annie Dillard writes in "Holy the Firm" reminders that we are victims. Perhaps this image, in the deepest sense, represents or symbolizes the cross we must all carry in life.