Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Public Display of Affection Affirms Our Need for Gratitude

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

On a recent Sunday afternoon the drier in my household went out.  I was next in line to do laundry in preparation for the week and was feeling a little anxious. I had put on my last clean pair of everything that morning for Church and could not wait one more day!  Just as it was getting dark, I finished the last load, then packing up my damp but now clean private and public wardrobe; I headed out to the local laundry mat to dry.  The parking lot was full and as I peered through the large plate glass windows, I saw a lot people in various stages of washing and drying. My heart sank a little. This dreary task was going to take longer than I had hoped. At least I had brought the book I was reading. I realized it being Sunday many individuals and families without their own appliances were getting ready for coming week and today I had the privilege of joining them in this regular ritual.  I actually found a working drier, loaded my clothes, put in a hand full of quarters and then sat with my book to wait. 

While trying to read under the too-bright florescent lighting, amidst the noisy conversations and the loud humming of both commercial washers and driers, I was distracted from my book by a young attractive Spanish speaking couple who came in carrying bags of laundry and one of the cutest babies I had ever seen. Dad went about “setting up camp” on one of the folding counters, making sure their Gerber-baby was secure in his carrier and could observe all, especially the busy parents.  The young mom started to separate laundry into a row of washers.  Once their laundry was all washing, they turned their focus to each other and to their off-spring.  The affection between the couple and for their child was palatable. They smiled, laughed, joked and even danced in front of the baby to some music that was playing from either a phone or mp3 player. I could not tell. 

I had been trying unsuccessfully to finish a book on spirituality called “The Grateful Heart” by Wilke Au and Noreen Cannon Au. In it the authors, a married couple who are a professor of theology and a Jungian therapist respectfully, promote the importance of developing an attitude of gratitude as central to deepening both our emotional and spiritual health.   In witnessing this young family’s wonderful public display of affection, I could not help recognizing that this was exactly what the book was describing.  Being grateful for our lives today, for the gifts we experience here and now is not simply a mental exercise.  Rather it is a rich spiritual approach to everyday life that leads to joy and happiness and can help one find God in everything as St. Ignatius of Loyola taught. As the book noted, gratefulness can help us see God’s love even while doing a dreary task like washing (or just drying) clothes at a laundry mat. At that moment, I felt so grateful for this couple, their beautiful baby and for the great gifts of romantic love and family they so freely shared.  Who knew a trip to the local fluff and fold could be such a moment of grace? I felt blessed to have witnessed their loved exposed.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, we read “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes it and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph, 5:28). I do not know if the young couple I saw at the laundry mat was officially married, either civilly or sacramentally, but it was clear they cherished each other and the child who had come forth from their romance.  Their obvious care for one another was a clear sign of God’s love in the world and the love Christ has for each of us.  Even now, in remembering how the young couple danced to the delight of their baby, I imagine God smiling as he tapped his divine toe to the same rhythm.

For Reflection and Sharing:
1.      Describe a marriage you know that reflects well the love God has for his people, us.
2.      How do you feel in this couple’s presence?  What effect does their love have on you?

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