Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On Graven Images, Our Children, and Back-to-School

Last week, I was en route to Meet the Teacher Night when the screen to my iPhone went black. 

After a late night run to both the wireless provider and local Apple store, it was confirmed beyond repair. 

What was worse, I had been too stingy for the $0.99 monthly iCloud subscription and lax in regular backups…for about 12 months. Instead, I had entrusted a free app to automatically save my photos- and it did not. Countless photos and videos were now lost.  I would not have been so bothered if it were not for how many of them were of my kids.  

After spending more than enough time wallowing in my stupidity, shifting blame to the free app, downloading the Facebook zip file of all photos/videos posted circa 2007 (yes, you can do that), and scrolling through my shared texts for pix sent to family and friends, it hit me: I had become obsessed with the loss of the digital images of my children. In some ways, the images of my kids had become almost as valued as my kids themselves. 

As I thought through all the events that had taken place over the last year, I realized how much time I spent trying to capture the moments versus living in the moments. My interactions reduced to the five-inch screen and preferred IG filter. This is not to devalue images, for they can indeed be holy. I have often scrolled through my camera roll in meditations, praying through the moments as a form of an Ignatian Examen. I will continue to do so. 

Yet these images are just that, images. They are not to be mistaken for the beautiful and tangible lives of each of our children. Maybe this is a bit of what God meant when God said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…” (Exodus 20:4). God knew sacred symbols could quickly be mistaken for the things to which they pointed, reducing the relationship to that which could be possessed, contained, distorted, and even lost. 

And God and God’s relationship with God's people could not and would not be any of those things. 

Our children, who bear the very image of God, cannot and should not be either. 

Still snap those photos and record slo-mo videos. They’re so fun! We should back them up, too. 

This week, my Facebook and IG feed are dominated by images of my friends’ and family (and my own) kids headed back to school. I love it! This is one of my favorite social media weeks. Back-to-School week is a brief respite from other digital trends. Instead of polarizing commentary, I see the faces of those who most wonderfully reflect the love, compassion, generosity, and playfulness of their Creator. I frequently pause to pray for them, remembering the mixture of excitement and angst that comes with a new school year. 

I also pray for the teachers who will be walking alongside these young bearers of the divine image as they learn and discover, question and wonder, struggle and forge a community within their classroom. I especially pray for them in these days, when our schools have become all-too-familiar with violent acts that require our teachers to spend great energy on safety drills, assemblies, and other practices to create as safe of a learning environment as possible. I pray for them because, between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., teachers are like the Otterbox to our most precious images of the divine and holy. 

But mostly I pray all would know, whether in the classrooms or at lunch tables, the hallways or gym classes, playgrounds and bus rides, or when they forget their homework or that it is picture day, they are loved beyond measure- as high as they can count plus one.  Even more, they are bearers of the divine image, which makes them holy, set apart, and eternally beloved. 

This is a truth not able to be contained in a photo. 

Happy Back-to-School! 

A brief meditation that has been carrying me of late. May be helpful in the days ahead, for teachers, students, parents, and any adults caring for children, too. 

Life is a lived paradox, 
A holy question,
an experiment with conflicting experiences,
meanderings between hope and despair.
The only constant 
you are loved to love 
by the Holy One