Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chosen vessels

As I work through my images from Italy alphabetically by town, I have made it down to Siena, which I am finding somewhat overwhelming (the cathedral there was breathtaking, so there are piles of images to sort through).

So I skipped ahead to Sorrento, which my husband refers to as "just a resort town," thinking it might be easier to find something there I could use for today's blog. And I came across these little cherubs, which were hovering on the ceiling of a fairly nondescript church near our hotel; we just went in on a whim. And when I saw the phrase "Vas Electionis" I thought immediately of our current election: something about baby angels carrying swords made me think of the recent vice-presidential debate...

But I couldn't really write about this without looking up the true meaning of that Latin phrase, so I poked around on the internet a bit and finally managed to establish that it means something like "chosen vessel," as in Mary, God's chosen vessel for carrying Jesus into the world. Which would explain why the cherubs are guarding that lovely red and white vase.

I presume the function of the three angels -- and this is really a tiny insignificant part of the ceiling, so there don't appear to be explanations of it anywhere -- is to support, to protect, and to proclaim the chosen vessel.

Oddly enough, I was thinking about this vessel concept just yesterday. My husband had stayed home from work, and around midday we went for a walk, down to the park and back. We got into another discussion about Bill Maher's movie -- it does raise a lot of issues, especially for my husband, who has not been blessed with my capacity for faith -- and he said he thought Maher's question was a good one. If there IS a God, why didn't he just eradicate evil?

Good question, I responded; certainly one that has plagued us for centuries. And I started to say that maybe each of us is serving as a vessel for something that needs to experience life as we do.

Hmm, he replied. That sounds sort of Mormon -- don't the mormons believe that we are all gods?

I don't know about the Mormons, I replied, but I do believe there is a spark of divinity within each of us.

Then Hitler, too, had God within him; he just took it in a different direction? my husband asked (he does love to poke at my faith -- not unlike Bill Maher.)

But I found myself transported suddenly into the past, back before I worked for the church and lost all my illusions about religion; to a time when my husband's mother came to visit, and I ended up taking her to a talk on forgiveness that was being given at my church.

As we were walking out afterwards, I realized she was very angry. "Some things are just not forgivable," she said. "Hitler, and the Holocaust, can NEVER be forgiven." (I should clarify here that, though she raised my husband as a Methodist, and was herself raised as an Episcopalian, my mother-in-law was in fact Jewish.) Hmm, I thought; the apple doesn't fall far from the tree after all.

And then, later yesterday afternoon, having coffee with a recently divorced friend, she was complaining that her husband felt she should be able to forgive him and move on. To her, right now, that looks like an impossibility. So I mentioned that we all have things like that to work on -- I'm still trying to forgive my father, for example, and he's been dead for several years now.

So, looking at this image, and thinking of yesterday's conversations, I wonder: what if those challenges that each of us face -- forgiving Hitler, forgiving family betrayals, forgiving God for the tragedies that so unfairly befall us and those whom we love -- what if all of that is part of the shape and design of each chosen vessel? And what if we think of our country as a vessel as well, and the challenges of this election, and of 9/11, and of the current economic crisis as the shape and design of THAT vessel?

Perhaps somehow through us, and through these challenges -- through all these chosen vessels -- Christ and the Divine Spirit are continually being born into the world. I don't begin to understand how it works. And I don't know if there are angels out there protecting, proclaiming, and supporting me and all these other vessels. And I'm not at all sure that this even begins to answer my husband and Bill Maher's questions about the problem of evil.

But it's something to think about.

1 comment:

karengberger said...

This is thought-provoking, and it makes me want to recommend Richard Rohr's "Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality" to you, in case you haven't read it yet. It explains what he calls "non-dual thinking," which sounds to me like getting to a place where we see that it's not going to get resolved the way we THINK it SHOULD have been done. It's going to get resolved WITHIN each of us, and that's how it's going to happen to all of us, or it's not going to happen at all.