“Taste and see that God is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
I have two rosaries that I carry with me everywhere. One I’ve had over twenty years. The other I’ve had almost ten years.
The rosary I’ve had for ten years, Cathy gave to me as I prepared to walk across Ireland. The rosary has been bathed in holy wells all across Ireland. I held the rosary in my mom’s hand as she died. I dipped the rosary in the water as I baptized my two grandsons. I’ve prayed with dozens of people as they wept; they held one end of the rosary and I held the other. A month ago I prayed with Justino, a young friend of mine who at the time, was undocumented. He was preparing to walk across the border, back into Mexico for the first time in eleven years. He was given an immigration hearing and his hope was that he would be granted a Visa to become a permanent resident of the US. We held the rosary as we prayed. When we finished I told him to take the rosary with him as he walked across the border. I told him I wanted it back, but not until he could cross back into the US. Thankfully, he was granted a Visa and last week he gave me back the rosary.
The older rosary my daughter made for me with beads she had brought from Spain. I carried that rosary on every pilgrimage I’ve walked in Ireland. I’ve dipped it in the holy wells in Ireland and in the healing dirt of Chimayo, New Mexico. I’ve held the rosary in the hands of the dying and in the hands of women giving birth. Last week, I prayed with the young people of Saint Peter’s as they prepared to go to camp. We formed a circle around the altar, two of the young people completed the circle by holding the rosary between them. I asked them that would, over the course of the week, pass the rosary between them. I prayed that the rosary would be the very presence of God for them.
These two rosaries have taken on profound meaning for me—they, among other things, have become more than symbols—they have become the presence of God in my life. There have been times in my life when I wished I could have seen, heard, touched, smelled, or even tasted God. At those times I felt like I needed more than my imagination to connect with the Divine. And I don’t think I’m alone in my desire to have a physical experience with God. I think that’s been the desire of most spiritual people.
Historically, Christians have had a propensity for collecting relics that had been in the possession of a saint, an apostle, or even Jesus. (See Caroline Walker Bynum’s Christian Materiality) For centuries Christians have made pilgrimages to places like the Santiago de Compostela in order see the relics of Saint James of Zebedee. In other churches around the world there are relics from the wood of Jesus’s cross, Jesus’ sandals, the bones of saints, and the chains that bound Saint Peter. The point of having such relics is the belief that the relic has an inherent healing agency by the virtue of having been touched by the saint.
The theology behind the belief in the power of the relics comes from two scriptural references. 2 Kings 13:20-22 tells the story of a dead man who had been thrown into the tomb of Elisha. And when the dead man touched the bones of Elisha he came to life. And then in Acts 19:11-12 there is a story of people taking a cloth that had touched the skin of Saint Paul to the sick in order to heal the afflicted.
The basis of this kind of spiritual practice resides in the belief that God is present in all matter. We just have to be willing to open our eyes and see it at those thin places in life; like at birth, at healing, at baptism, at the Eucharist, or at the moment of death. What makes the spiritual practice of seeing God in all of creation so powerful is that you don’t need massive amounts faith to believe in the power of the material—you simply have to experience it. When the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, he told them that they already had enough faith; they simply needed to activate the faith they already had within them. (Luke 17:5) It’s what Richard Rohr means when he says we were born with the DNA of God within us.
In the letter to the Galatians (2:15-21) Saint Paul tells us that we already have the “faith of Jesus Christ,” emblazoned in our soul. For centuries we have been taught that we were responsible for having enough “faith in Jesus Christ” in order to have a complete and lasting experience with God. But now, scholars of Saint Paul are telling us that this text has been miss-translated. The text should not read that we need “faith in Jesus Christ.” But instead, “the faith of Jesus Christ” has already been implanted within us. In others words, our being made whole was done by the work of Jesus’s faith in God and not reliant on our faith or our belief in Jesus. (See Paul Among the Postliberals by Douglas Harink)
The faith of Jesus Christ was made evident by the life he lived—a human life that he lived to the fullest; he was born of women, he walked the dusty roads of life, he was hungry and thirsty, he suffered, and he died. He knew the full range of the human experience. And the experience of his life taught him that God is love and that love is everywhere, in everything, and in everybody. He lived that truth and he taught us that truth—God is love; a love found in birth, a love found in living life, a love found in dying. God’s love is the kind of love we can see, touch, feel, smell, and taste. God’s love is found in the bread we eat and the wine we drink. When we begin to allow ourselves to see God in everything around us, it will change the way we live, move, and have our being in this world.
We are all stunned by the mass murder committed in Orlando, Florida Sunday morning. We are appalled by the violence that is escalating in our country everyday. I wonder, do we trust more in God’s presence in our lives, or we do we trust more in our need to feel protected by guns?
I have to wonder why giving everyone in the US the right to own a military style automatic weapon is necessary? What if the sale of military style weapons were banned to the general public? If the killers in Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown and countless number of almost daily incidents didn’t have automatic weapons, would the number of deaths be less? Or would the killers even have had the courage to carry out such tragic, senseless acts? I wonder what keeps us, as a people of faith, from crying out to our governmental leaders to stand up to the NRA and pass legislation banning the mass killer’s weapon of choice?
Personally, I don’t own a gun. I don’t want guns around me. True, it would be unthinkably tragic if a gunmen killed my family. But, in the end, no one can kill the presence of God within me. Truthfully, I’d rather carry a rosary than a gun.
“Taste and see that God is good.” (Psalm 34:8)