Hanging ten with the Virgin Mary

Here's a fun one. A few days before Easter, the Surfing Madonna mysteriously appeared in a seaside city north of San Diego. The mural attracted a lot of attention, and, when it was ordered removed, the Los Angeles Times wrote this story:

She arrived seemingly out of thin air — beautifully rendered in a 10-foot-square mosaic of stained glass and stone that had been attached to a concrete railroad bridge without anyone noticing.

Mother Mary's stance in the tube of a Tahitian-sized wave indicated she was no amateur. Her right foot forward on the board made her a goofy foot. Who knew?

"Save the Ocean" was spelled out down the artwork's left side. Locals in this funky San Diego County beach town called her the Surfing Madonna. Pilgrims paid tribute, taking photos and leaving flowers and the occasional votive candle.

It's a fun, quirky story, filled with religious language and references. But, unlike the LAT's story about Ron Artest's name change, this story about surfing and art and the Virgin Mary was written by a news reporter.

It also asked some good questions.

Turns out, Patterson is mild-mannered non-Catholic "free-ranging spiritual thinker" with a love for the ocean who left his corporate job to follow an artistic vision.

He had long carried a sketchbook in which he doodled. The Surfing Madonna first appeared in its pages in 2005. Why? Patterson doesn't know. The inspiration returned in 2009 in a much more refined image.

To be sure, this article does not go into depth about the Virgin Mary has inspired artists; or about why the Virgin Maryis the favored apparition of choice. It's a bit more efficient in its all-inclusive reporter of these news story.

The article also never explains why Patterson chose the Virgin Mary or why he settled on the title "Surfing Madonna." But that's because, as the reader is told, the reporter doesn't know why -- and apparently neither does Patterson.

Sure, saying that Patterson is a "free-ranging spiritual thinker" (a quote) is more opaque than saying he isn't Catholic. We don't really know what that means.

But I like that reporter Mike Anton didn't just settle for clever turns of phrase that open the article ora the trivial treatment that troubles stories like this one. Anton asked the main question that I wanted to know: Why the Virgin Mary?

And that's something.

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