The Common Good

Talismans and Tokens

Summer Sundays with Phyllis Tickle

I'm not much for talismans or religious tokens in the usual sense of those things. I wear around my neck every day of my life a chain with four emblems or medals on it. One is a Celtic cross given me on my 65th birthday by my favorite college chum from more than a half-century ago. One is the shield of the Episcopal Church, whose way of being Christian stole my heart away when I was 17 and has never let go of it or me in all the years since. One is a Jerusalem cross that Sam bought for me in the Old City in 2000 when we were there in conjunction with John Paul II's papal visit. And the fourth is one my number three daughter, Laura, bought for me in a little shop near the Cathedral in Canterbury when we were there for a meeting of The Canterbury Roundtable. She snuck away to buy what she had earlier seen me fingering with no small amount of desire.

All in all, however, and despite their overtly Christian character, those beloved pieces of silver that hang daily around my neck are not religious items or even talismans. They are a remembrance from, and of, those whom I have deeply loved in this life. Admittedly, they find their shapes in the iconographic forms of that which I have most completely sworn my life to, but they are not themselves truly icons. No, the only talisman or icon -- if indeed it be one -- that I carry, I carry in my wallet. It is a piece of paper, and it is there for two reasons.

First, it defines better than anything else I own how completely short of the mark I and most of my co-religionists are. Second, it demands that I never forget and never give quarter to those of whatever time, country, or persuasion who would forget, not the events it stems from, but the purity of soul generated by them.

The words in my wallet were found scratched on a wad of old wrapping paper in a bunkhouse at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp when it was liberated in 1945:

Lord, remember not only the men of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember rather the fruits we brought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of this. And when we come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have bourne be their forgiveness.

May such grace attend us all now and in the hour of our deaths.

Phyllis Tickle (www.phyllistickle.com) is the founding editor of the religion department of Publishers Weekly and author of The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the Sayings of Our Lord and the forthcoming fall release, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why.

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