The Saints in Walgreens

These have been very full days.  Last Wednesday the Novena of Grace began, which is a nine-day preached retreat in everyday life hosted by the Ignatian Spirituality Center where I work half-time as Program Coordinator.  Essentially there are two services each day, midday and early evening, and participants can choose one to attend in the midst of their everyday life. 

As a part of this service we offer prayers at the end with relics, which are tiny fragments of the remains of Saints, in this case Ignatian ones such as St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The Catholic tradition is nothing, if not incarnational, in touch with the embodiment of human life.  I find something so beautiful about this honoring of the physical, tangible connection to the Communion of Saints.

A week ago I had to go over to Seattle University where the relics are kept to pick them up.  They are housed in small glass and metal cases with the name of the Saint and the relic itself contained within, no larger than the head of a pin. I am responsible these nine days for what are irreplaceable objects.  I was handed a small box which held them snugly inside and I placed it gently into my backpack and headed to work.  As I walked I was aware of the unusual circumstances of my situation, wandering the streets of Seattle with the remains of the Saints jostling in my backpack.

Along the way I stopped at Walgreens to pick up some Excedrin for a headache that had been building all morning.  I walked through the aisles among mascara and foundation, toothpaste and deodarant with the relics at my side.  I headed to the pain relief section and stood there in front of the massive array of choices to soothe the aches of human living. I wanted to make my selection quickly, so as to get the relics to their destination.  Then I realized in a moment of grace and clarity, what better place for the Saints to be than here in Walgreens?  These holy persons who walked the earth and had their own transformations.  Ignatius of Loyola who knew intimately the profound physical pain of injury and also the doorway it can sometimes offer into something deeper. 

Suddenly they were standing there with me, Francis and Ignatius.  They were blessing me with my headache and backpack holding my cell phone, wallet, keys, and sacred bone fragments.  They were blessing each bottle of pills, praying that those who purchased them would find relief in both body and spirit. They were blessing the other people who gathered for a brief few moments in that space with me — the elderly man shuffling along slowly looking for a card to express some heartfelt wish to a loved one, the very young girl who was skipping through the aisles asking her tired mother for candy, the tired mother who was just laid off from her part-time work that was keeping ends together and now looking at lipstick colors to grasp at some sense of her own beauty for a moment.  I joined them in their blessings, singing them in my heart, showering them on everyone I saw.

I brought my bottle up to the counter. The woman checking out my purchase was cheerful, asking if I had seen their special on eye cream.  I wanted to ask her if she had seen the Saints walking through Walgreens that day.  I wanted to ask if she knew that this place was holy ground.

(c) Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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