I never go to wedding receptions. It’s too lonely. Most of those events are made up of couples and I feel isolated in those settings. Also, the guests are often uncomfortable when the priest sits with them. They retreat into grim silence as if afraid I am going to suggest they enter into a long overdue Confession before dessert. Or worse, they ask probing questions about my personal life that make me squirm. I just don’t go. It’s easier to decline. However, last night I attended a rehearsal dinner of a wedding I am celebrating today. The meal was held at a converted cottage in a residential neighborhood. The little house was covered in ivy and jasmine and inside the small rooms had been opened up into extended expanses of gleaming wood floors and plastered walls. We were seated at a long farm house table groaning under the weight of flowers and flickering candles. There were wood fired pizzas with cheese and asparagus and pressed greens. We had pâté and fresh breads for appetizers and then mixed green salads with rough cut hazelnuts in a vinaigrette. We could choose our entrée and I selected a perfectly cooked piece of salmon with a dot of cream sitting in quinoa. Everything was delicious and beautiful in a room filled with laughter and happy people. I was sitting one down from a young San Francisco woman who explained to me that she volunteers two days a week on an Alzheimer’s hotline. People call with questions or “sometimes they just need to talk.” Two full days a week this lady goes into a room and voluntarily listens to strangers who are living in a nightmare.
Two. Full. Days! That is what I call holiness. And sitting across from this living saint was her mother who volunteers in a Memory Care Unit of a local nursing home and brings drawing paper and water colors inviting the patients to paint for a couple of hours. She explained to me, “the Alzheimer’s patient is blocked, they cannot enable their brain to communicate in a traditional way so the painting becomes a channel for expression.” In other words, the painting frees the patient to express themselves in a way words no longer can.
This intrigues me. The idea that we use symbols as a way of approaching something intangible. Actually we do this all the time: when we pray, we use words (which are limited forms of communication at best) to express our longing, gratitude and need to the unimaginable wonder that is God. The rosary is a symbol that provides a tactile experience of entering into the presence of the Holy Mother. Swimming is an environment where we seek to be buoyant. Making love becomes a place of profound intimacy. Playing a musical instrument, sculpting with a blob of clay and hiking in nature all become channels of non verbal communication. These places and experiences provide an atmosphere where words and logic no longer matter because we have transitioned into a mysterious place of transcendence. A place where the woodworking or the quilting or the watercolor transcend the blocked, wounded or insecure places in the mind/body and open us to something greater, something unknown, something beyond our ability to completely understand.