Symbols speak



In October of this year, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit Asheville, North Carolina, for eight days. When planning for this getaway, we decided that we would like to look into staying at an Airbnb in the hope that it might provide us with the comforts of home. We were very fortunate to secure an apartment at a residence that was located in the mountains of Asheville. It came with the promise of supreme comfort, privacy and a breathtaking view. I am glad to report that we were not disappointed; the accommodations exceeded our expectations.

Upon entering our “new home,” the first thing I noticed was an ornate box affixed to the doorway of the entrance. As we ventured through to the great room, there was another box displayed prominently in the middle of the doorway. This ornate object is known as a mezuzah, which holds the Hebrew words of the Shema. The Shema is the most important prayer in Judaism. It is recited in the morning, in the evening and before bed: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God , the Lord is One.”

The mezuzah is placed within a Jewish home as a reminder to its residents of their covenant with God and serves as a sign for visitors that this is a Jewish home, and those who dwell here are committed to God and living in a way that will honor him.

Even though, at the time of our arrival, we had not met our hosts face to face, we already knew something important about them. God held a very important place in their life, and they wanted others to know who guided their life.

As I thought about this open display of faith, it brought me back to my childhood and my experience of entering the homes of my grandparents, and my great aunts and uncles. The artwork that adorned the walls was mostly religious – the last supper, palms, crucifixes, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. On coffee tables and side tables next to the perpetually filled candy dish, you would find a Catholic Bible, a statue of Mary (a rosary usually placed in her hands) and most definitely the figure of the Infant of Prague. Their homes spoke, without words, who the Lord of their life was and how their faith was an integral and integrated part of their everyday existence.

Neither my relatives nor my parents ever really formally spoke of these pictures or religious articles, but I knew they were of importance because they found their way to places of prominence throughout all their homes. As I grew older and began to learn about all these religious articles, I came to understand the significance they had for the people who displayed them and wondered if they knew what the articles’ presence may have imparted to those who entered their home, myself included.

Do we ever stop to think about what our homes communicate to those who are welcomed there? As their eyes gaze upon a beautiful Madonna found in your living room or the family Bible that sits on your coffee table, do their thoughts turn toward the divine? In those moments, has a prayer been offered? Has something been illuminated?

I don’t think we can ever underestimate the way God captures one’s attention or the influence it may have. We also should not underestimate how the simplest things we do (like integrating religious articles in our homes) in silence draw people in or lead one’s thoughts to God.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the power these religious images have for those who display them as well. Upon our viewing, we are reminded who the Lord of our life is and move into the day trying to faithfully live this reality.