Trinkets of Meaning
It is said that there are four stages of experiencing a moment of happiness. They are the anticipation; the experience of the moment itself; expressing the happiness of the moment, either to yourself or to another; reflecting on the memory of the moment of happiness. This, researchers claim, is why we keep mementos. These treasures from our past help us not only remember the special moment but they provide a connection to all aspects of the moment. Whether it is a love letter, a picture, or a special book, such items are a testament to our lives. These connections are an education of who we were, what we did, and what we believed. These lessons about our past can often foretell our future.
In a research paper about family homes written in 1981, scientists Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton found meaning to be the ultimate goal of people. “People need to know that they are remembered and loved [and …] that their individual self is part of some greater design beyond the fleeting span of mortal years.” With this values-oriented perspective, the home becomes a place of memories. We create our home environments to express and reinforce such memories.
To this end, mankind has kept the mementos of spirituality and religion. These relics are often objects used by or bodily remains of a person deemed important to the particular faith. The word relic comes from the Latin “reliquiae” which translates as “remains” or “something left behind”. It is the same root word that the word relinquish comes from which makes for an interesting connection itself. Relics are used to remind us of the faith and to strengthen the resolve the faith requires. They are not simply the structure of the faith nor factual information. They provide a real connection to others who have lived the faith, walked the spiritual path on which we have chosen to embark.
The types of objects that become relics are things that speak of humanity – bodily remains, objects used in worship, or objects used in the martyrdom of the devout. The Basilica of Santa Croce is a reliquary in Rome, Italy which houses thorns, three wooden fragments, and a nail which are all said to be part of the crucifixion of the man known as Jesus Christ. Both Charlemagne and Napoleon were crowned with the Iron Crown of Lombardy which resides in Monza, Italy. The Iron Crown is a thin band of plain iron 1 cm or .4 inches thick but it is said to be made from a nail also from the crucifixion of Jesus.
The sacred relics found within reliquaries and other places of worship are not just reminders of important events or people. They afford us a relationship and become joint activities. The viewing or even touching of these artifacts connect us and become our own personal events. Their identity give us an identity and remind us that the path is not always smooth or easy but it is of value. They also hold moral value for us and, in that way, serve as not only a bond but a lesson and example for our own evolution of living.
These relics are also ties into the cognitive aspects of how we learn and remember. As we age, research has shown that we tend to remember things from the perspective of an observer rather than from active participation. Sacred mementos in our lives help us remember not only autobiographical things but the biography of our faith and beliefs. They can serve as tools for self-disclosure and to deepen our social connections. These relics express various aspects of our faiths. The housing of such relics led to the building of temples and churches as well as pilgrimages to view them. The economic effect on the routes of these pilgrimages and relics was enormous. Souvenirs were produced and sold; hostels built to house the travelers; artists employed. Mankind traveled to places of sacred items and in doing so, formed more social bonds with which to exercise their beliefs.
Today the world is full of both relics and counterfeit relics. It was inevitable. What is perhaps of greater importance is not the counterfeit relic being sold in a foreign country but the counterfeit belief we are living in our own backyards. Technology has made rapid advancements for the individual and yet, while photographs can now be stored digitally, the 2009 Whittaker et al research study showed that most people were unable to retrieve forty percent of such photos stored on computers after the passing of a year. The number of old-school items and digital files representing the sacred items of our own lives rapidly increases each year.
People are living in larger homes with less actual living space. We have the ability to digitize the sacred mementos of our lives but fail to become the necessary digital curators of such. In the process of living our busy lives we are losing the sacred aspects of our living. Recently I spent two hours looking for a book I have and have read but could not find amid the myriad of other books stacked on my various tables and desk. In the process I went through several stacks of papers. I should have thrown away a garbage can full of unnecessary papers but instead employed tunnel vision and was interested only in that particular book. I found another book on feng shui (the topic at hand) but never did, amid all the clutter and chaos, find the book. The irony of my search speaks volumes to our topic – my precious reference relic is titled “Unclutter Your Life”.
We are a world of hoarders. Whether the reason is that we live in uncertain economic times and so we might one day need that item so we put it up in a closet or whether we are just so focused on the minute we are living that we forget that others will follow which will need their own space, we live amid the chaos of the past. Most of these items do not hold meaning for us nor do they provide joy or peace. They are not meaning relics which connect us to who we are but are simply things. The word relic come from a root word which also gives us the word “relinquish”. This weekend I will strive to relinquish some of my clutter in order to give meaning to the sacred in my life. Who knows? I might even find that book! For certain, I will find the sacred and the peace, not only in my persona living space but in my soul.