THE UNBROKEN WORD

The Crucible of Ownership – Part I

“I am yours and you are mine.” These words ring out in song, scripture, and in many commitment ceremonies over the decades. The Song of Solomon and Isaiah 43 are two places where I find these particular words calling out to us.

For many, these are scary words. I don’t think I ever thought of them as scary, but certainly hard to understand. For me, this was because of distance or boundaries to God made clear by the nuns catechizing me as a child. Every time I had an experience of God’s love, it was complemented by the knowledge (instructions) that God was to be feared, and I was to behave if I had any chance of even meeting Him in the afterlife. There was little discussion of God’s continued presence in the world and, in particular, Sr. Rosario’s classroom. (Humor intended).

The separation between God indicated to me I had to keep God on the pedestal, just like the statues in the sanctuary at St. John’s in Trowbridge, England. I was to keep my distance and have reverence in all things when in the sanctuary, and then we could let loose a little when back in the playground behind our school.

There was a duality taught to me, which is still perhaps present today, but more importantly, I was conditioned in another way. God made me, (Baltimore Catechism), but I didn’t own God, and God didn’t own me. My relationship was to be at one level alone; adoration and obedience. All else was forbidden; even if it was not verbalized, it just was not taught.

So moving to the next level, the idea of a God of fellowship and friendship was not easily attainable to me; after all, I could not be friends with God, could I? Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that the Church in the 1960s was preaching a God of fear alone, it wasn’t, but the point for me was I was being told I could not attempt to get too close to Him.

As it happens, this was juxtaposed with my experience of God. At my First Communion, I had a mystical experience (I didn’t know what it was at the time), where I truly felt the physical presence of God inside my body. It assured me that despite all the teaching that I could not get close to God, they could not prevent God from being as close to me as it gets—being inside me!

So, I am going to return to the title of this reflection—the crucible of ownership. If I am yours and you are mine is a true statement (which I believe it is as it is written clearly so many times in scripture); then what does that mean for my relationship with God. Do I own God? Does God own me? Do we own each other?

Ponder these questions during the week, and we will continue to examine this question further in another seven days. Have a blessed week.

The Crucible of Ownership – Part I

What do I own?

My health,

My home,

My car,

A motorcycle,

Furniture.

Perhaps.

What do I own?

Relationships,

Shares in organizations,

Shared activities.

Not really.

What do I own?

Love,

Courage,

Humility.

No. I don’t own them.

What do I own?

Inner peace.

No. But I know what it feels like.

What do I own?

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

In recent weeks we have been preparing for the upcoming retreat season at Mater Dolorosa. Each year the retreat team meets for weeks to discuss what the theme for the year might be. This year, in particular, placed a vast challenge upon us, and resulted in the retreat named “Walking with God during difficult times.”

For those of us who have our faith challenged at these times, we fall back on scripture, lives of the saints, or other spiritual guidance provided by the Church and its abundance in the past 2000 years. However, these sources are not the only ones where we can find solace and assistance. While researching for materials, I returned to a popular song which always makes me very reflective. The song is Paul McCartney’s “Let it Be.”

When Paul McCartney wrote this song there were many interpretations of the meaning. Many interpretations occur when an artist places their heart out there in their art. They are willing to share it, and you become the co-creator. For many years, I, like many others, thought that Paul was referring to our Blessed Mother. Why wouldn’t I? The lyrics seem to talk directly to the soothing relationship we have with the mother of Jesus. Where she can be the intermediary between Christ and us to “Let it Be”. In this regard, as we with many bible verses, we become the co-creator, interpreting the words, images, or sounds into what is God saying to me.

However, in Paul’s case, the lyrics, at least for him, the author, were about his mother. His mother’s name was Mary, and he obviously loved her dearly. Despite the fact that she had died of cancer when Paul was just fourteen years old, he was still very close to her. Paul explains:

“I had a dream in the Sixties where my mum who died came to me in a dream and was reassuring me, saying: ‘It’s gonna be OK. Just let it be…”

I wonder if this way was Gods way of providing the peace Paul was seeking in his motherless desert wilderness? Could he have known how such sage advice was going to become an anthem to invite the peace of God into so many lives over the years?

Sometimes we feel that even though we are in community with others, we are still not prepared. We feel alone even though we are not. Just as in the photograph below, God’s gaze is always focused on us, even when we cannot see or feel it.

This week, perhaps we can notice where God is present in the lives of others, who don’t seem to appreciate His presence. Perhaps you can help them through gracefully showing them how God has not left them, but they may just not see Him as clearly as he sees them.

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Clearly noticed in a sea of Grasses

THE UNBROKEN WORD

ART FOR ART’s SAKE?

In the world of Church and Prayer, we see seeing in a lot of different ways. In the Christian Tradition, particularly that of the Catholic Church, we find ourselves using objects, images and artifacts as a way of communicating with God.

In the most traditional ways, we use statues, paintings, and other objects as ways of reminding ourselves of our relationship with God. From the Crucifix to the Tabernacle, all of these objects are designed to remind us of some aspect of our relationship with God. This relationship we can call prayer.

In the sanctuary, we consider many of these items sacramentals. Holy objects which help us either enter into or stay in a prayerful relationship. We may not even consider this, but the simple act of blessing ourselves is also a sacramental one, so a sacramental does not always have to be an object, although often it is.

I want to introduce this prayerful way we look at certain objects or art as a means of understanding how we see things in our everyday life. An excellent study of this process is captured in a book by Stephen Pattison called Seeing Things. In this book, Stephen illustrates how we humans have become used to scanning things quickly from a visual perspective, categorizing them, almost without thinking and then miss the opportunity to understand the relationship or meaning they may have in our lives.

While no one would consider throwing a rosary or bible down in anything but a gentle manner, we often ignore what is going on in the objects around us in our everyday lives.

For example, when in an art gallery or museum, we immediately take a different form of attention when looking at the artwork because of its location or the fact it is framed than we do for all the other materials surrounding it. Once informed of its artful nature, we give it the respect it deserves as a result.

Part of this problem is we often view things in this manner by determining if they are “beautiful” or not. In his research, Pattison notes we often blow by something quickly if it does not fit into this category, and alternatively are willing to “gaze not glance” at objects which meet the first category. By doing so, we often miss many of important items that are a vital part of our everyday life, but are not in the category of artwork or a traditional sacramental.

So today, perhaps, we can take some stock at the items we have around us, even on our desks or dressers at home, in the kitchen, the toolshed, and see them for their own importance, their function and then lastly, our relationship with them. We often have a haptic (or feeling) relationship with these items which is sometimes not recognized until they go missing from our lives.

When we begin to notice these other things around us, we may find ourselves drawn into a new form of prayer, one of reflection and gratitude or memories which helps us immensely. We don’t ignore the everyday gifts and objects around us, but are rather thankful for them.

Art Thou Art

The blank frame stands proudly to attention,

Clearly displaying its nudity by the dust on the untouched wall behind it.

Still they stop and gaze

Thinking knowingly, there is meaning within.

Meanwhile the author, a simple carpenter,

Giggles from above,

Watching the security cameras,

Holding her morning Starbucks fav.

Later that day she places the sign below the frame.

“Art thou Art?”

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Monetary Car Wash

Copyright © 2020 Reflection, Poem and Photograph Michael J. Cunningham