"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Uncovering Sanctity

For quite awhile now, Eva has been copying most of what Maia does - good and bad alike. But it wasn't until just recently that Eva marched into the kitchen and proudly handed me a drawing she'd made, saying " 'ang it up, 'ang it up!" (Eva's great at talking, but she omits her h's.) We have a little ledge in the kitchen where we put Maia's artwork. So I put Eva's up on the ledge as well, and have continued to do this nearly every day since then.

A week later or so, I was doing a routine clearing-off of the ledge and deciding which pictures to keep. Maia produces so much artwork that we simply can't keep it all, but some are so good that I can't bear to let go of them, and I usually staple them together into a book. Without really thinking about it, I put all of Eva's pictures into the throw-away pile. After all, compared to Maia's art, Eva's pictures are just scribbles.

Of course, anyone would say that it's unfair to compare a 4.5 year old's artwork with an almost 2 year old's drawing. Obviously I knew this, and I laughed at myself for unconsciously favoring Maia's artistic skill over Eva's.

But later I was thinking about being a child of God and the lives of the saints (yes, this is what I think about when I'm running on the treadmill). I was thinking about what makes Eva's and Maia's artwork different: Maia's has recognizable shapes and forms and she is able to actualize her intentions. In other words, she has a clear end in mind when she's drawing. Sometimes the picture is truer to her idea, and sometimes she's disappointed. But she knows what she's doing when she sits down to draw. Perhaps Eva does too and is just unable to actualize her intentions, but regardless, we can say that Eva's drawings appear to be only scribbles.

It occurred to me that some who strive for sanctity - especially the beginners - merely write scribbles whereas the more practiced can draw recognizable images. We who are early on the path lack the attention to detail and the understanding of how each mark fits with an overall picture. And yet God appreciates both the scribbles and the pictures, regardless of our human judgment. God knows when failure (sin) is not hypocrisy, but human weakness. God notices our progress, even when others fail to see. God understands how we are trying to fit the marks into an overall picture, and God can probably even see the picture before we can. Moreover, God can recognize great artwork even when those with a close-up view can't make out anything from the images.

On All Saints' Day I heard a great homily that included a true story that I saw as connected to this. My husband confirmed it with his students that are associated with the order, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (Gray Friars). They had just purchased a convent from some Dominican sisters who no longer had the population to keep it. In the process of moving in, they were moving the bones of the long-deceased buried below and respectfully interring them elsewhere. In the process of doing this, the Gray Friars made a few discoveries. They came upon the prioress of the congregation, whose head was incorrupted. The rest of her body was decomposed, but she, as the head, had still a perfect head. Then they came upon an incorrupted hand on a decomposed body; upon research, they learned that this particular nun had been an icon painter. Her hand that had spent so much time painting sacred images, was just as it had been. Then, with nothing but bones to left and to the right, they came upon a completely incorrupted entire body. Who was this? Someone important? Not really. It was just the doorkeeper. The woman who had spent her time opening the door and welcoming people to the convent. But she must have done a good job at it, eh?

On the Solemnity of All Saints, this woman served as a good reminder to us that there are many holy people who are not officially canonized saints. Or we might say, there are many excellent artists who spent their entire lives perfecting their art, giving their lives to God, and supernaturalizing the everyday (yes, there's even a holy way to open up a door). Many are not recognized either in their lifetimes or after for what they have done, and yet, they are not forgotten in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God knows when scribbles are just scribbles and when scribbles are actually his children's first steps to something greater. In the latter case, even these pictures are worth hanging up on the ledge. They are reminders that no one starts off as a saint, and as a confessor recently told me, God smiles at our efforts.

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