Friday, March 29, 2013

A Drawer Full of Crosses

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“I’ll be finished in an hour.”

That was my cousin, Susan. I’d spent every morning all during that week doing my devotions in her little cubbyhole of a home office. This particular morning she invited me to do my “meditating” at Galilee while she completed a couple of small jobs.

Outside of divine intervention, there should be no conceivable reason for Susan to end up at a spiritual retreat centre. She hates being dependent on anyone, even God. Nevertheless, even though she hasn’t admitted to needing to search for Him, God has sent out His posse after her.

Through the local, small town grapevine, Susan discovered that Galilee was looking for a painter. At the time, my cousin needed a job. She paints pastoral scenes, still life and portraits, so was more than qualified to paint walls, doors and woodwork.

The painting job turned into an administrative position. Personally, I think she runs the place: she lives and breathes Galilee.

She delights in telling me about the adventures involved in taking minutes when Galilee’s Board of Directors meets.

“I don’t speak Catholic,” she quips, explaining her difficulty in understanding the discussions buzzing around her.

She doesn’t “speak Catholic.” I am not sure she has ever gone to any church except to the chapel at Galilee when giving the required tour to guests — and to me, her “meditating” cousin. Considering the rather irreverent language in Susan’s vocabulary, I’ve often wondered how she’s managed to keep her job at the retreat centre. I suppose if God can shut the lions’ mouths, He is perfectly capable of shutting the ears of those who do “speak Catholic” so they don’t get offended by her speech patterns.

Before Susan sent me off to “meditate” — Susan doesn’t speak “Baptist” either, preferring a more generic “cover-all-the-possible-expressions-of-spirituality” kind of language — she showed me around the grounds and through the buildings.

Surrounded by stately trees, lush gardens and carefully tended grass, Galilee sits on a hill overlooking the Ottawa River. Since its conversion from a training facility for priests to a retreat centre, the doors have been opened to anyone looking for breathing space in their lives: Baptists, Buddhists, people wanting to get lost and others trying to find themselves. Galilee even welcomes neighbourhood dogs as long as “poop-and-scoop” is observed.

Susan carefully explained to me the effort that went in to painting the spiral staircase in the main hallway and the trouble the leather paneling snaking along the wall, caused her. Yes, you read correctly — leather paneling.

Everywhere there are reminders of religion. I wouldn’t have expected anything else in a place run by the Oblates. However, Susan thinks that non-Catholic people might be uncomfortable surrounded by religious objects. After all, some people try to find peace without connecting intimately with God.

So, she has a little campaign going. Susan’s trying to get rid of the crosses. She doesn’t want to burn them or bury them: nothing so crass. She respects everyone’s right to do religion his own way with his own “stuff.” Every one of the simple bedrooms, each one looking out through huge windows over the grounds toward the river, boasts a crucifix as its single ornament. My cousin believes that statues and crosses in the hallways and public rooms are fine. This is, after all, a Catholic Retreat Centre. However, she also believes that making guests comfortable at Galilee; providing non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics without distractions while they are “retreating,” should include giving everyone a generic bedroom, sans crucifix. She’s trying to convince the people in charge to put all the crosses in the dresser drawers: a sort of “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” theory.

I thought about how I would feel at Galilee if I were to seek to retreat there. Would I, a very serious, life-long Baptist, be offended or distracted by a crucifix in my room? It’s unlikely, though I was certainly impressed by the number of them around. However, the presence of the crosses has more significance for Susan than it does for me.

I wonder how many times in the course of a week she walks through those rooms. Susan holds Christ at arm’s length. She doesn’t know Him personally. Ten, fifteen, twenty times a day she sees a representation of Him, hanging on a cross to provide her with an eternal retreat. Perhaps one day, if she sees those crosses often enough, Susan will actually see beyond the object to the objective.

Lord, don’t let her put those crosses in a drawer.

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