Perhaps I should have been more impressed. I only knew a few things about this professor, which he shared at the beginning of the semester, when all of his students were excited about the possibility of creating great works of art. The class was called “3 D Design” and most of us thought we would learn about sculpting clay or how to fire a ceramics. I learned more than those things. As it often happens in a college setting, especially in a liberal arts program, I learned more about life than I did about the subject of the class.
What I knew of the teacher, though I do not remember much, was that he was from Chicago, he was respected in some circles as an “up and coming” artist, and he was an atheist. These are the three things he told the class. I only remember his first name, which was Paul. What I deduced from my time in his class, was that Paul was hip, or cool, or whatever the term was at the time, he was young enough to know what his students were facing, and old enough to have had some success in the overcoming of some of those obstacles.
I was not an atheist, but it did not bother me that he was an atheist (I always wondered why it mattered to him enough to share that fact). I was not hip or cool. I was certainly not an “up and coming” artist. We had little in common, but we got along well. His class was simply one more credit I needed to prove to the admissions committee that I was ready to be accepted into the graphic design program. After a year or so of those classes, I opted to enter the religious studies program for my degree. Not to learn about one particular religion, but to discover what people of all traditions did to both accept and express the Divine.
We learned a lot about the world of art in that class. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We were a sort of gang of goofy teenagers who fancied ourselves as having something to say to the world through our art, though we were our only audience. Paul said one thing that stuck with me through the years. Materials matter. Whatever you are creating, whatever you hope to achieve, the materials you use in the process matter as much as the finished product. That lesson stuck. That lesson, though applied to things other than art in later years, lasted beyond my college years.
Bob Dylan sings in the song, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)“,
“Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred”
And isn’t this true? Isn’t this the case, even fifty years after those words were penned?
Materials matter. Back in the day, Christian T Shirts were all the rage. They usually had a logo that was similar to a logo found in pop culture and included a reference to a Bible verse. They were cute and I am certain they started a conversation or two which lead to life changing decisions being made. I am guilty of having owned a few. What was always interesting to me, though, is that the whole concept of the shirt, was to attract attention to what was drawn on the shirt to look like one thing while it was actually another thing. This was just before trying to convince a person that was duped into asking a question about the shirt, that God was real, and love, and honest.
There was nothing sacred about them. They were, and are, like Dylan’s flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark. And while it was easy for a young bard to see that not much is really sacred, millions of people in the world today, place the burden of sacredness on so many things. When people ask if I design Christian T Shirts, I always respond by revealing we have yet to master the process of eliciting a confession from a shirt and that it takes too long for them to dry after a baptism ritual. I design shirts about peace and love, kindness and hope, these are ideas found in religion, but are concepts easily grasped by those outside of religion also. They are most certainly not sacred. They are t shirts.
Materials that matter for a sacred life are much different than thread and ink. They are different than a particular haircut or a certain color robe. You won’t find them in a necklace or a soft rubber bracelet. The materials for a sacred life are not created in a sanctuary, temple, synagogue, mosque, or conference hall. You can find them there, but they are not created there. You can find them in bars, brothels, and the backroom of a pool hall, as easily as you can find them in a church. If you do not believe this, then the material you believe is a building block for your sacred life, might after some time, crumble under the pressure of real life. A sacred life does not require a belief in God, a membership to an organization, or the good opinion of others.
What material might you need? What might be used for creating a sacred life? The answer is simple and is available to everyone that seeks to live in this way.
It might look like sacrifice or charity, it might seem like caring or concern, and it may even take place in religious traditions, but it is only Love. Too often, we confuse the way that Love is shown with the material that is needed for a sacred life. Too often, we believe we know what a person living a sacred life looks like. Too often, we believe we think we need to know if another person is living a sacred life. The only material that is important, and that will last, is Love.
I share it with a smile. I share it with a concern. I share it with an offered hope. I share it with an occasional meal. None of these are important. Only Love matters and only you know if you have heard the voice of Love. Only you know if you follow its direction. What I do know, is that when you hear Love, you will begin to suspect that Love is speaking through everything in the universe, everything in nature, and everything, in what some are tempted to call, your circumstance.
And here is the real challenge, though I am not a fan of challenges of faith. Wake before the sunrise and watch as daylight breaks. Be still and listen with something other than your ears. you will hear Creation speaking in rhythm, softly, and into your soul, “only love… only love… only love… only love”. If this is not the case, I will send you a personalized post card, at my expense, and with a message of hope (my apologies… we are all out of little packets of miracle water… Robert Tilton bought up all our supplier had), just so that the experiment might yield some tangible offering from the Universe that Love is real. Requests for postcards can be submitted through “contact us” section of compassionwaves.com.
Love is the the material that matters. Love is the space between things and the things themselves. Love builds what lasts and creates a better world for those who are left to live it after you are gone. It is where you are from and and where you are going… do not forget this on your journey between the two. If you run out of Love, create more. If you do not feel Love, brush against it as you offer it to others. You are a work of Love that is creating works of Love… and that is a big deal.