Dear Pope Francis,
I think I’ve written more in the past 20 days than I have in as long as I can remember. The reason? I’ve got a frame for my writing. OK, it helps that the tagline for this blog says I’m writing every day. But it’s more than that. Writing to you focuses my mind on something I can easily comprehend and tackle. Keeping a regular writing schedule has been a problem for me in the past. Once I’m sitting at my laptop, the words usually flow. It’s getting myself to the chair that’s tough. I think part of the problem is that when I’m thinking about sitting down to type, before I go anywhere near my laptop, I worry I won’t have anything to write about. I’ll tell myself the words aren’t there today, so why bother.
This is where the frame of writing to you, every day, helps. It gives my mind something to focus on. In fact, it gives my brain something to noodle with all the time when I’m not at my laptop. What will i write to Pope Francis today? What should I tell Pope Francis today? It helps get me going, and makes the process manageable.
Frames are helpful. They let our minds put boundaries around things so that we can puzzle them out. They give us focus. They let us explain what we feel is inexplicable and do what we think is impossible. Keep in mind, though, that the frame isn’t reality. I could actually sit down at my laptop every day and probably produce something. But, I don’t. It’s the frame I’ve put around this stage in my development as a writer that gets me to the laptop. And, for me, it works. For now. I may outgrow this particular frame an need another one, but, right now, it’s what works.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. OK. Fair enough. I think religion, to some extent, is a frame. It helps us understand something that is and will always be mostly a mystery to us — God. This is OK. There’s nothing wrong with trying to explain the mystery that is the Divine. That’s our lot as humans, I think. As powerful as our brains are, we can’t comprehend all that God is in one fell swoop. It overwhelms us. Our souls can, but that’s also a deeper, mysterious kind of knowing. It’s not a complete answer kind of brain-knowing. And, as humans, we are not good at the not knowing. It drives us nuts.
So, we build frames, and call those frames religion. And this can be good. We need those frames so our brains don’t short-circuit when trying to comprehend God.
There’s a problem, though. We often get so attached to our particular religion that we fall in love with the frame and lose perspective. We add onto the frame, making it heavier, more robust. We use sturdier wood, and perhaps add layers of adornment, maybe a little (ok, a lot) gold leaf. Then we put the frame in a museum and post a guard who checks everyone’s identification and goes through their pockets before they’re allowed to even glimpse the frame. This is to make sure only the right kinds of people get to take in the frame. Occasionally, maybe we might even notice that, oddly, the canvas in the frame has somehow expanded outside its boundaries. So we snip it off to keep things tidy. And, we go on, admiring our frame. Yay us! We’ve created an awesome frame for God. Aren’t we clever .
Meanwhile, nobody has paid any attention to what’s in the frame. The frame, after all, has been the focus of all the upkeep and security. And so the painting fades and gets kind of tatty and sad-looking. After awhile, though a few stalwart admirers endure the lengthy security procedures to see the frame, many others have noticed what’s happened to the picture. They begin to wonder what the point is of putting all that work into the frame, when the painting has become so, well, stagnant. They might start to think that God is no longer even in that frame.
So, we’re left with a lovely frame that is completely and utterly useless. A frame, after all, is defined by what it holds, not itself. Without something worthwhile to display, the frame is kind of beside the point.
I think we, as Catholics, have put too much attention on the frame we call religion, and it’s starting to show. After Jesus was crucified and then ascended, the early Christians were left to start a Church to keep what Jesus did and who He was alive. Over the millennia, though, we’ve lost Jesus from the picture, and put much too much emphasis on the frame. To be honest, I think He might have walked out of the frame long ago, searching for folks who’d pay more attention directly to Him than the human-created hoops some feel are needed to gain access.
Frames are good. Religion is good. They both let us focus on one bit of something that seems unfathomable. But I think we run into trouble when we confuse religion with the Divine, and refuse to update our frames on a regular basis.