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Michael J. Cunningham, D.Min, O.F.S.
Deacon Manuel and Chela Valencia
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A word from my childhood with some biblical meaning.
One I never could understand.
It always startled me, like mother trying to get my attention;
Perhaps for a surprise,
Or to bring something really important to my attention.
I always felt it was a word restricted to nuns,
Those who had the right to behold something,
Or had some special insight that was granted them because of their habit,
Or maybe some special relationship with a saint.
Anyway, behold was above my childish paygrade,
And my theological understanding,
Because I thought my relationship with God was based on knowledge,
Dispensed from those who were authorized to do so.
When all I really had to do was look, pause … no gaze.
And I would see God for myself in most everyone and everything.
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?”
Monetary Car Wash
Copyright © 2020 Reflection, Poem and Photograph Michael J. Cunningham