I read recently that the word “monument” comes from the Latin word “monēre” which has to do with reminding or warning and that this is also related to a Proto-Indo-European root “men” regarding mind and memory (don’t ask what I have been reading:). This reminded me (hahaha) of how I like to use beads and candles as part of my prayer life and how a friend of mine in the orthodox stream of things uses icons.
I know there is a lot of debate of such matters, and Calvin had a lot to say about them and certainly their usage can be taken too far, like all good things humans can take them overboard. Still, I wonder what monuments one might have in a house and what role they play in the good life and the life of faith? Perhaps photos of ancestors or wedding days? Maybe first communion candles or long-outgrown wedding dresses? Mementoes that bring to mind people, places, and realities.
Like the old family bible that may contain a family tree with dates of births and deaths, baptisms, weddings, and the like. That such things were noted and the data collected may seem odd to some of us today. That it is in a bible and not on a spreadsheet (or whatever) might mean these people are not like us (maybe we have stopped reading the bible or attending church often) and yet they are part of our story and their faith is part of how we see the world, if only subtly and often in unrecognized ways. At the very least the material item has become a memento.
For the purposes of this little blog on its tiny corner of the internet this idea has me pondering, again, the role of tokens of various sorts that can help us remember where we come from and also where we want to go. A reminder can be backward looking, that is how we mostly think of them. But we also use reminders to look ahead. I set reminders on my phone for birthdays I want to remember, tasks I need to remember, and the like (and I still forget things, like to buy the oat milk on my way home:).
A well placed candle, bible, journal, kneeler, etc., can all be helpful reminders of where we find life abundant and who we want to be and the route to getting there. Like the runner who lays out her shoes the night before or the pianist who leaves the sheet music open to a certain bar, we can strategically place reminders around us that will call us to be who we have set out to be in our times or clarity and strength and purpose.
If you are like me you will need these because for every moment of strength and purpose and conviction there is a moment when something else seems tempting, forget the shoes and grab another coffee, forget the sheet music and turn on Spotify, never mind the bible there are novels to read!
And so, I try to have specific places to sit to pray and to read the bible, I have candles that remind me that the work I do at my desk is holy work, not because I am a minister but because as a Christian all that I do can be turned into an offering to the Divine.
If you haven’t tried this because you are well versed in the theological debate that took place 500 years ago or because you listen to a spiritual guide that pushes you to avoid these things, I understand that, and yet I imagine that you too could benefit, even from a small gesture towards a moment, like designating a certain chair a chair for prayer and committing to praying whenever you sit down in it (you can still use it for other things, just be sure to pray).
As ever, if it works keep it, if it doesn’t move on, life is too short to struggle with religious practices that don’t bring life, but also too precious to not even bother trying.