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~ Wet Paint, Do Not Touch ~

Confess and admit. If you ever passed by a sign on a bench or wall that said, "Wet Paint, Do Not Touch," you probably did touch it, yes? Or you were quite tempted to touch it. Or you were so engaged in more important things that wet paint didn't attract your attention at all. I admit I did disobey such signs. But not out of rebellion, but curious research, as it were. Many thoughts entered my mind:  "How long was that sign there?" "Did they just finish painting it?" "If it's dry, how long will it take for the painters to come back and remove the sign?" So I gently touched it to answer my questions.

In some stores I was also curious about a plaque that read, "In case of fire, lift up." So I would lift it up to read the plaque underneath that admonished, "Not now! You were told only in case of fire!" Yeah, it got me, but I also knew it wasn't about fires. I also read about the fall of many multi-million dollar lottery winners into personal and financial distress. Yet such stories somehow don't convince us. Many respond, "I wish I could see for myself." Sometimes this computer switches windows and accuses me of performing "an illegal operation." If I took it literally, I would tell my computer to put the charges in a deposition and I will confront it in court. Sometimes disobedience isn't a matter of rebellion, but challenge and a quest for answers.

One of the worst slogans used in the "war" against drug abuse was, "Just say no!" "Just" implies an ease that is not realistic for those who use illicit drugs to self-medicate. From the point of view of many troubled by physical and psychological pathology, that "just" is equivalent to someone telling an upper-middle class or wealthy citizen to "just say no to taking a pain killer for your excruciating tooth ache. After all, that's just a temporary relief and doesn't solve anything." Of course, that is true, but it does buy relief until the dentist addresses the problem. How many of our children and adults are just buying some relief until someone addresses their problem? "Just say no" needs a follow up: To what do you say "yes!"?

Like the wet paint instruction not to touch, I could also tell you that if you fully want to understand this Reflection, it is important that you do not think of a monkey. Thinking about monkeys or imagining even one in your mind as I write this will definitely interfere with your understanding of this essay. So if you want to "get" what I'm saying, make sure you put out of your mind any thought or image of a monkey in whatever form, from a real monkey to a stuffed toy. I'll tell you why later.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism" (Romans 2:5-11, NIV). Paul is rich in multiple messages. Are not many who pray the 30-second "I accept you, Jesus, as my personal Lord and Savior" self-seeking, motivated more by the threat of hell-fire than the love of Christ? Therese of Lisieux wrote many wondrous love letters in poetry to Christ, in one of which she explained how since no one would love Jesus from hell, and feeling so saddened that there would be a place in the universe from which Jesus would not be loved, she would happily give up her destiny to live in His heart forever and go to hell so that He would be loved from there as well. Such ardent and self-sacrifical love!

One of St. Therese's last poems, roughly translated from the French, is entitled: "You Who Know My Extreme Littleness" (July 16, 1897):

You who know my extreme littleness,
You aren't afraid to lower yourself to me!
Come into my heart, O white Host that I love,
Come into my heart, it longs for you!
Ah! I wish that your goodness
Would let me die of love after this favor.
Jesus! Hear the cry of my affection.
Come into my heart!

That is a salvific prayer, among hundreds she prayed and wrote down! I am reminded of the proclamation in the Song of Songs (8:6-7): Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned."

Such a heart of spirituality would not be enticed by any "Do not touch" sign. Such a spiritual heart would already be extremely content with what and whom is it already touching that it would be beyond even the thought of temptation to touch anything else of a non-spiritual origin or nature.

What about monkeys? If you didn't think of them until this reminder, be happy that you probably "got" the meaning this Reflection is trying to convey. If monkeys were on your mind the whole time you were reading this, wondering about their connection to this Reflection, then you are kindly and respectfully called to reread this essay and forget about them. They are an irrelevant distraction to our spiritual development, but seem always present. We can learn to recognize them for what they are and learn to dismiss them with the mystical power of spiritual love for our friends and foes and our Creator of all of us.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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