Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Ash Wednesday is this week and we will embark on our Lenten journey The Love of Thousands: Honoring Angels, Saints, and Ancestors.
Many of you feel a deep kinship with Abbey of the Arts because of our love of mystics and the saints and the ways we cultivate connections to those wise guides beyond the veil. This happens in many ways including pilgrimage, presence, and . . . relics. Relics may seem just like that – relics of another era, but these bits of clothing, hair, nails, and bones of the saint that have been revered across time speak deeply to an incarnational faith where the body has sacred presence.
Here is a brief excerpt from our retreat content:
Several years ago when I lived in Seattle I worked for the Ignatian Spirituality Center. One of my responsibilities was coordinating the annual Lenten Novena of Grace, a nine-day preached retreat. To be honest when I started the position, the idea of a Novena felt quite foreign to me, perhaps a bit old-fashioned. But this is where I fell in love with the experience of a Novena in community. Nine days of intentional prayer together. I saw how it could transform people and me.
There were two services daily – midday and evening – so people could choose which fit best into their daily rhythm of life. As a part of the service we offered 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.
It was my responsibility to walk over to Seattle University where the relics were 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 was responsible each year for those nine days for what are irreplaceable objects. I remember my first year going to get them, 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 deodorant 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 there 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.
Please join us for a very special Lenten journey where we stand at the portal between worlds and cultivate our connection to the holy ones who bless and support us.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
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