Over the weekend we had a memorial service for my grandmother. When it was all over, the family went to her apartment and looked through her things. Each of us was able to go home with items that belonged once to her. And I’m reminded of the wisdom of a faith that manifests the spiritual, the metaphysical, through the physical.
Because the gloves she wore to church remain unstained, covering hands that, like hers, have seen their fair share of filth in the name of love.
Because the love she baked into white bread (key ingredient: bacon grease) and zucchini bread lingers in these battered, beaten aluminum pans that will now feed another rambunctious family of six.
Because the collection of exquisitely sculpted blessed palms, which beautified her bedroom shrine, now beautifies our kitchen.
Because a canister of sugar will be used or shuffled daily in the preparation of the family’s favorite foods.
Because when I spend a car trip praying on the rosary she prayed before Mass every Sunday (well, one of the rosaries), I will remember the countless prayers she sent up on behalf of her crazy granddaughter who tries to do too much. (The rosary from Lourdes, given to me by my other grandmother, resides in the van for the same purpose.)
And because even a cast iron skillet becomes a reminder of holiness when it is used by a person who, over the course of a life lasting nearly a century, no doubt spent as many moments praying God grand me patience! while using it as I do.
The things themselves aren’t holy, but they are a tangible reminder of a woman who was. And by having them and using them, she remains with me, in some ways even more closely than in life. Every time I see or touch or use these objects, it is a reminder of a truth greater than food or car trips or fashion. This is why we reverence objects that belonged to or touched a saint, why we keep them in places of honor and pray in front of them. Not out of some creepy or unholy idolatry, but because we experience God through our bodies, and even to look on a relic is a way to connect with someone who achieved what we aspire to. A way to make it more real and thus, more attainable. Which is the whole point of the spiritual journey.