BY ELIZABETH McKENZIE
Tortoise had gone walkabout. It had just disappeared. Consternation. It seemed such a happy well-fed little tortoise, swimming around in the wading pool. As tortoises move very slowly we were confident of curtailing its bid for freedom. But as the sun set, the wading pool was tortoiseless.
My seven-year-old remained upbeat, suggesting a prayer to St Anthony. We held hands and sent the heartfelt request of a small boy for the return of a missing tortoise out into numinous cyberspace. But would anyone hear us?
Several days later, as I was hanging out the washing, who should be meandering along the path but Tortoise - I supposed it was the same Tortoise! S/he settled back into the old routine as if s/he had never been away. I uttered a quick 'thank-you' to St. A.
An extended loving family, friends, neighbours and the occasional enemy peopled my childhood. My spiritual world – no less real – accommodated God, Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph and all the angels and saints. God was remote and on the whole unpredictable, the Holy Family an almost impossible ideal. Angels, especially Guardian Angels, were important in matters of life-and-death.
Saints, being human, were very accessible when divine intervention was needed. There was a patron saint for every eventuality. St. Patrick was the most important although his only contribution to our well being – apart from converting the heathen Irish in the first place – was a day off school in the long dreary days of a northern hemisphere Lent.
Although other Irish saints were next in importance, we had a catholic/ecumenical/ practical approach to saintly functionaries, depending on the occasion or need. This meant some saints, usually foreign, were much busier than others because of their expertise. They were more directly involved in the day-to-day nitty-gritty of our lives. St. Anthony was certainly Very Important in our own household as my father’s keys were forever getting 'lost'.
In Asian cultures something like the equivalent of Christian saints are part and parcel of religion and culture. Taoism for example has a plethora of domestic gods of which the Kitchen God is probably the best known. Hinduism also has human-like gods with discrete well-defined functions in their relationship with ordinary folk.
Humans obviously need user-friendly accessibility to the divine in the daily hassle/bustle of living. I have known devout ecumenically minded Taoists and Hindus resort to using the St. Anthony solution for finding anything from keys to parking spots to jobs. By all accounts St. A is also very ecumenical in his response.
Of course we don’t actually need the angels and saints to channel divine solutions to us. God knows everything there is to know about being human. But sometimes it is good to be able to call on that special advocate to address a specific problem. Either way we can be assured of an answer.
It might not be the solution we were looking for but it will contain a generous invitation to share in the divine perspective. And grasping that may require the input of a friendly favourite saint who after all has been there and done that.
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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