For months I delayed sorting through my mother’s musty boxes stored in the basement.
My oldest daughter’s offer to help provided the much-needed motivation to begin the process. Digging in, we soon discovered the forgotten contents of to-do lists left uncompleted, unpaid bills, gift receipts that held memories of past celebrations, and hundreds of fading, old photos of people and buildings now just a glimmer of memory.
In the midst of these treasures, I noticed a short stack of prayer cards held together by a tattered red elastic.
Prayer cards, often referred to as holy cards, have long been a part of my Sicilian Catholic faith tradition. These cards, the size of baseball trading cards, commemorate a grace-filled event such as a birth, wedding or funeral. The front of the card displays a religious image, usually a picture of Jesus or a saint, along with a prayer or verse. The back of the card is personalized with details of the event and/or the person commemorated, as a reminder to pray for them – and, one supposes, to encourage them to pray for us.
This stack of forgotten holy cards – thick as a deck of playing cards – had been distributed at funerals and represented our deceased family members and loved ones. These keepsakes were personalized with names and photos, intended to remind us that we are all holy people made in the image and likeness of God.
I set aside the holy cards while we continued to sort through boxes. Later in the day, my 7-year old grandson, Jack, asked me about the cards as he pulled one from the stack. I replied that it was a special card used in prayer. He studied the card for a while and asked me about the image. I told him it was a picture of Jesus.
He looked at the card again and said: “I didn’t know Jesus had glasses and short dark hair.” I stopped to look at his point of reference; he was looking at the back of the card that displayed a photo of my best friend, Mary, who had recently passed away. I paused for a moment and then turned the card over to show him the picture of Jesus. In that moment, I was reminded that we see the face of God in each other and I believe that Mary was truly a holy person made in the image and likeness of God.
For centuries, artists have provided us with a variety of images and likenesses of God – a bearded old man, a dove, the baby Jesus, a young Jewish man, a bright light, a storm, the sea, clouds, the universe, a burning bush, and many others. As humans, we need images to help us imagine and connect with this Supreme Being who made us and who loves us unconditionally.
Yet image and likeness isn’t just about how we look, it’s about who we are and how we were made. We were born with an original blessing and Divine DNA. This is who we are as a people and why we are holy. And, while no one image completely captures God, our own images of God reveal something about us.
I was reminded of this a few years ago during an experience in a parish community.
While attending the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., my husband and I were asked to facilitate a Sunday morning class at a local parish. The class was composed of a group of young parents whose children were attending Sunday morning faith formation classes.
We were told that the group was “well formed” and we would simply be available to facilitate discussions. On the first Sunday, members of the group were interested to know about our studies and asked us: “Who is God? What do they teach you about God on Holy Hill?” The GTU is often referred to as Holy Hill as it sits on top of the Berkeley Hills above Cal Berkeley.
During our time together, we learned that this group of dynamic, highly educated, young parents wanted to know: “Who is God?” and “How can we get to know God and connect with God on a deeper level?”
As we journeyed together through prayer and discussion, they began to know God by learning more about themselves and others. They began to connect with their Divine DNA – the image and likeness of God within themselves. As they reflected on each other’s images of God, they began to see the face of God in others – just as Jack saw the face of God in Mary on the holy card hidden in the musty box.
Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the Founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached at: