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A while back I ran across a quote from Tomas Halik, a Roman Catholic priest, philosopher and theologian. He teaches at Charles University in Prague, and advocates for religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. The quote is: “An atheist is simply another term for someone who doesn’t have enough patience with God.” I’m not sure where I came across this quote, but I have kept it near my desk for the past couple of years, and have used it in several conversations.
Being patient with God is not an easy thing. I struggle with it, and I suspect, at times, we all do. We pray about something—whether we are looking for guidance or clarity, or praying for someone in a difficult situation—and we expect God to respond promptly and obviously to our prayers. I have come to realize, though, that God doesn’t operate on our timeline, or according to our schedule. Unfortunately when God doesn’t respond as we want, when we want, it is easy for some people to lose patience with God, and even to stop believing in God.
I think the above happens because we often view prayer as a transaction. When we approach prayer as a transaction, we think that if we put in the time and make the effort to pray, God is obliged to respond to our prayer. I think, though, that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of prayer. We don’t pray to get God to do things for us. Rather we pray in order to grow in and develop our relationship with God, and to understand how God is working in our lives.
When we understand prayer as relationship with God, and not a transaction, we don’t see it as putting in the prerequisite time so that God will do what we want. Rather it becomes a way for us to come to understand what it is that God wants for us, what God’s vision is for us, and where God is offering us the grace to become the person God is inviting us to be. Spending time in prayer with God is akin to our human relationships. Spending time with others is a way for us to develop and deepen our relationship with them. In a similar way, spending time with God in prayer helps us to grow in our relationship with God.
It is not always easy to be patient with God. And frankly I suspect many people have given up on God because they weren’t patient enough. I do believe, though, that if we can trust in the slow work of God, not only will we not become atheists, but we will become friends with God, and co-workers with God in bringing about God’s kingdom.
The Sistine Chapel with the Creation Story and the Last Judgment by Michelangelo as well as the world-renowned Rafael Rooms are often referenced when speaking about the Vatican Museums. Some people might make mention of the early Christian collections with the famous Good Shepherd and numerous Christian Sarcophagi. Others will remark about the amazing collection of modern and contemporary sacred art started by Saint Pope Paul VI. But who would expect to find a vast collection of indigenous art and artifacts from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania in the Vatican Museums?
In 1925, Pope Pius XI organized a major exposition of art and artifacts that reflected the artistic, cultural and spiritual traditions of the different peoples of the world. Of the 100,000 objects that were sent for the exhibition some 40,000 were given to the pope and remained in the Vatican collections after the exhibition. This was the beginning of what was then known as the Vatican’s Ethological Museum.
A few years ago, Pope Francis renamed this museum and gave it the title of Anima Mundi or Soul of the World. At the same time he asked that this museum be completely re-imagined and be given a much more prominent place among the different collections in the Vatican Museums.
During the opening of the partially completed Anima Mundi Museum in October of 2019 Pope Francis commented on the transparency of this new museum. All walls and exhibition cases within the Anima Mundi Museum are made out of highly transparent glass which allows the visitor to experience art from one continent while seeing art from all the other continents. Pope Francis said: “In these showcases, over the course of time, thousands of works coming from every part of the world will find space, and this kind of installation is meant to place them effectively in dialogue among themselves. And as works of art are the expression of the spirit of peoples, the message received is that one needs to always look at every culture, at the other, with openness of spirit and with benevolence.”
On October 7, I was able to visit the Anima Mundi Museum with Fr. Nicola Mapelli who is the director of this museum. He spoke about the objects in the transparent cases as ambassadors of the different cultures in our wonderfully diverse world. I was very moved by the deep longings; the fears and hopes; the joys and sorrows all of us share as they are expressed in these many objects, no matter where and when they were made. We are so very different from one another, and yet we are so very much the same.
The following Wednesday, during his weekly audience Pope Francis spoke about the relationship between Christian freedom and our diverse cultures during his meditation on the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. He was clear to state that welcoming the Christian faith does not “involve renouncing the heart of cultures and traditions, but only that which may hinder the newness and purity of the Gospel.”
True Christian freedom, the Pope said, enables us “to acquire the full dignity of the children of God,” while allowing us to remain anchored in our own cultural heritage and at the same time being open to what is good and true in every culture.
The Pope deeply lamented the “many errors” that have occurred in the history of evangelization “by seeking to impose a single cultural model.” These errors, he said, have deprived the Church of “the richness of many local expressions that the cultural traditions of entire peoples bring with them.”
It was not lost on me that my visit to the Anima Mundi Museum and Pope Francis’ meditations fell on either side of October 11, a day known by some as Columbus Day and by others as Indigenous People’s Day.
As we move forward toward a world and a Church that is more inclusive, diverse, and equitable let us take an honest look at our past, let us be transparent about our present and let us courageously march toward the future, embracing the open and respectful dialogue so needed for the well-being of our world, our church, our community and ourselves.
Engaging with the art in Geheimnis – Visual Mediation on Ecclesiastes, Mortality, Mystery, Glory is like going back to college without paying tuition. Artist Kelly Kruse provokes and challenges us to reflect about our lives, humanity, and spirituality. One visit is not enough. There is simply too much to take in and absorb in one viewing, but I assure you, the return trip is worth the effort. This exhibit is on display until December 5 in church, the John XXIII Gallery and Teresa of Calcutta Hall on the lower level.
Kelly describes her work as contemporary illumination. She delves deeply into the human experience, from light and beauty to suffering and death. She is upfront about her personal battle with depression and has used art exploring theology, history, and beauty to find her way forward. With a background in classical music and opera, Kelly studied Medieval and Renaissance music in Italy. During this time, she came upon the idea of illumination as she explored connections in scripture, poetry, music, and the visual arts.
Two years in the making, Kelly drew her inspiration for Geheimnis from scripture, music and famous authors like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Donne and Shakespeare. “Geheimnis” is the German word for “secret.”
Studying Ecclesiastes, she drew inspiration from the Hebrew term “hevel,” meaning vapor, smoke or breath—something elusive that can’t actually be grasped, but momentarily felt or glimpsed. Kelly noted that “hevel” is used 38 times in Ecclesiastes, is an abstract concept—it’s an enigma, a paradox she sees as part of our human nature and develops in her art. She invites us to explore the unseen while challenging us to be uncomfortable in a place of not knowing.
Kelly’s non-representational art needs to be experienced in person. Using layers of vibrantly colored acrylic ink and foil, she describes “the wonder of the materials” and “how the foil is transformed by the layers of ink.” Mica, metal, and marble are added on fragile vellum and rice paper for some pieces and transparent dura-tar for another.
A series in Teresa of Calcutta Hall is based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 “For everything there is a season.” One piece titled “Glory of the City of God” drew me into reflection about The Basilica’s vision. Inspired from Jeremiah 29:7 “Seek the well-being of the city and pray for it to the Lord, for in seeking its well-being, you will find your own.” As I considered Minneapolis, “City of God” gave hope and challenge to recommit to our Basilica vision. Kelly describes “places of light and places of darkness” citing Isaiah 60 “ if we have the light we shall be the light.”
Writing on her website Kelly shared, “I believe in the value of connecting faith and art for the modern mind, both as an artist and a holder of great work. It is vital to culture to wrestle visually with ideas that are difficult to voice. I also believe it is good for the human soul to grapple with our inherent limitedness, our life’s givenness, and the fact that we are partners for better or worse with the unseen world that sits behind what we can touch.”
Experience Kelly Kruse’s art firsthand and mark your calendars to meet her at a reception at 1:00pm on December 5 in Teresa of Calcutta Hall, lower level of The Basilica.