By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger
I’ve recently adorned my kitchen with one of my favorite paintings by Sister Mary Southard, one of my Congregation of St. Joseph sisters in community.
Mary’s art, titled “Bright Wings,” picks up where that of Gerard Manley Hopkins left off. This Jesuit poet wrote that the world is charged with the grandeur of God. And, despite the fact that generations of humans have seared, bleared, smeared…and smudged this world,
…nature is never spent…
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah!
Ah! there’s the source of Mary’s title. I suppose that, from his 19th century vantage point, Hopkins would never have suspected that he might have to rescind his claim that nature is never spent. (You can read the whole of Manley Hokins’s poem here) Mary Southard, on the other hand, certainly knows and deeply laments the grave destruction that humans have wreaked on our Earth, threatening the future lives of all species. (See Mary’s painting below, “The Children are Asking.”)
So is the future of our common home up to God, or up to us? Are we to “let go and let God” or summon “all hands on deck!”? What saves ( or heals) us, faith or works?
The Christian tradition answers: “Both/And.” Christ incarnate is “Emmanuel,” God-with-us. God teams up with us humans in a radical, intimate way, intensifying our already vital connection with one another. Pope St. John Paul II taught that the one and only Holy Spirit of God breathes into every prayer that is breathed out, irrespective of one’s religion. Imagine!
Many of us believe these as truths, but perhaps haven’t let them sink deep into our consciousness. So we “forget ourselves.”
Let me back up and tell you what got me thinking about all this, a few days before I put up “Bright Wings.”
Meet my mother, Rose, and her pride-and-joy great-grandson, William.
William has been special to Mom since he was a baby, when she and Dad cared for him when my niece went back to work. William can be a mischievous rascal, but Mom always takes up for him. “Rose-for-William”; it’s like God-for-us, writ small. Mom says that she always thanks God for ALL of her children and grandkids, and as you might suspect from this photo I snapped, it was truly a joy for her to hang out with William that day.
Yet later that same day, Mom “forgot” her joy and got very sad. A litany of worries flooded out of her heavy heart. Everything seemed dark and scary, it all depended on her, and everybody surrounding her had poor track records for success.
Now, Mom’s had a tough year, losing Dad, and feeling more like 90. It’s not that I “blame her.” It’s just that I want for her to live out of the gratitude she prays, to feel her belief that God loves her and advocates for her. God-for-Rose.
Enter, the mirror. I see that the same fitful, on-again, off-again pattern can be oh so true for me. I forget. I forget that I’m in a love relationship with God. Head beliefs only don’t cut it. Prayer is experiencing God loving me as friend, sharing smiles and heartaches. Prayer is also conscious experience of being “at work” in the world with God and others as partners: bringing about a little hope here, a little healing there. God-for-us as team leader, yet it’s totally shared leadership.
Here is another image from recent days, another that both radiates joy and belies suffering.
This was the first moment at which Honduran Misael Ponce Herrera was holding his 6-year-old daughter Marianita since 3.5 months prior, when they were forcibly separated for having crossed the U.S. border illegally. Their reprieve from terror may be short-lived, as memories continue to haunt their family life, in the grinding poverty that sent them searching for a better life in the first place. But for the coverage of journalists of the PBS News Hour, Marianita might still be far from home, as are thousands.
As the song goes:
You might be thinking “what does a Christmas carol have to do with God being with us?” But you see, the song is sung in the musical “Mame” OUTSIDE the Christmas season. It’s saying, we could sure use Christmas cheer, or in this case, a reminder of Emmanuel, God-with-us, no matter what time of year it is.
We always need lights in the darkness, the singing of songs together, photos of treasured memories. All of these remind us of who we are, and Whose we are (A phrase of the late Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.)
As it happens, a framed print of “Bright Wings” is gifted to recipients of The Sacred Universe Award by The Well Spirituality Center, a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph. The award is given to leaders “whose work and life fosters mutually enhancing human-Earth relationships.” Today I nominate for The Sacred Universe Award those artists and activists who inspire us, mothers and fathers who love us, and journalists who inform to form us. And “Bright Wings” graces my kitchen wall to remind me that we’re all on the same team.
About the Author
Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger, CSJ, D.Min. completed the Doctor of Ministry degree at Catholic Theological Union in May. Her thesis-project was entitled Truly Sisters: Catholic and Muslim Women Walking in Solidarity on the Path to Interfaith Leadership.