“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
This week I had the honor of meeting the wife of a famous sculptor. I love getting to know the women behind well-known men. They often have a certain kind of gravitas, a familiar, all-knowing smirk as you sense they are their own force to be reckoned with. Almost seven years since her husband’s passing, 96 years old, Inge Parks carries herself with a joy and graciousness that lights up the small room in her now health center home.
I came to visit Mrs. Parks because she and her late husband Charles were faithful attendees at Grace Church, and his presence remains with us in the few pieces of his work scattered throughout our campus. A parishioner who lives in her facility set up the meeting.
I expected to find Inge in an expansive abode, the incredible artwork of her late husband towering over her, but instead, she sat smiling brightly from her wheel chair in the simple room, which was just big enough for her and her nurse companion. Her walls were covered with smiling family—children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren—in photographs representing decades of love and a life lived together. There was one gorgeous old snapshot of her and Charles standing in the driveway from what looked like the 1950’s. They smiled like they were in love, both of them beautiful and young.
There were one or two small sculptures, but Inge made sure to tell me that her children and grandchildren were coming to visit soon and that she would send these pieces with them, including the photos.
I knew that Inge was a generous lady—a year before Charles died, the family and the foundation donated what was left of his collection (nearly 300 pieces) to the state of Delaware—but I had no idea just how at peace she would seem with all that giving and letting go.
Oh, what treasures Charles Parks made! That I knew before I met Inge, from my encounters with his works at Grace and around the city of Wilmington. But what I realized by looking at those photos in her room, were his treasures were not just made in his workshop on the Brandywine, but in his home, in his family, in his living. Married for seventy years, he and Inge had four children. It would have been easy, if I were her, to create a shrine to their seemingly perfect life, especially when your husband left so much of himself behind in his work. But instead of doing that, she sent the work on its way, as if it made her lighter to do so, as if it made her free.
The Bible talks a lot about our relationship to possessions, and I have been known to skip over these parts, especially those verses about idol worship. This is 21st-century America. We don’t have a problem with bowing down and worshipping statues. Charles Parks’ sculptures are not calves made from melted Egyptian gold to be prayed to, after all. But re-reading Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Matthew about money and learning of Inge Park’s generosity, made me realize that we do plenty of worshiping of idols in our own way. I put my value in my treasures, my heart in my blessings instead of the Blesser.
If I’m honest I can see how it would be possible to “worship” our mementos and our legacy, to place our value and identity in them, making these good things ultimate things. We hoard all that represents this love and connection, and we keep it under lock and key. We rent storage units to hold all we can’t bear to throw away. Our most prized possessions collect dust on a shelf, in a dark jewelry box, or a safety deposit box across town. Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up,” all the rage on Netflix, put forth the philosophy of keeping only the things that “spark joy.” Whatever your feelings about her methods, she has certainly stirred up a popular conversation about the average American and their relationship to objects, myself included.
During Lent, we Christians talk a lot about penitence and fasting, almsgiving and self-denial. To an outsider it may seem pretty glum. On Ash Wednesday as the the pastor drew the cross on my forehead, she looked me in the eye and said, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” At first glance that might seem pretty dismal, negative, or dramatically somber, but this week, inspired by Inge Parks, I am letting it feel freeing.
What if when we hold something and find it sparks joy, we give it away, instead of folding it perfectly and storing it with like items alla Marie Kondo? What if we could let go of this attitude of scarcity, and we really believed what Jesus said?
“Where your treasure is, there your heart is.” Maybe Jesus meant: “What do you have that if taken away, you’d find life not worth living? What do you have that if lost, you’d be inconsolable? That is your treasure. That is where your heart is, and the problem with your heart being held in such temporal objects or beings is that the great blessings of family or meaningful work cannot withstand the test of time. Even the bronze sculptures of Charles Parks will return to the dust eventually, pieces left behind for some anthropologist to find long after our civilization is gone.
No matter how much joy it sparks now, we cannot take it with us.
I treasure Eva and I think constantly about how I want her to remember me. I treasure our home which I have worked hard to fill with objects that bring us joy. I treasure Edwin and the things that symbolize our love, my engagement ring and the piece of vintage jewelry he bought me for my last birthday. I treasure our collection of crosses that hang in our kitchen, which we’ve picked up traveling over the last five years or so. This is where my treasure (and my heart) is, and when I think about losing these people and these things, it makes my heart sick.
Yet, I know deep down that all the love and joy that is sparked here on earth is only a foretaste of what is offered us when we believe; that these things only point to the most beautiful thing of all, something I will never have to let go of, something eternal.
Do I live like I believe that?
I think we hold on tightly to the blessings and memories of this life because we aren’t really hopeful enough about what is coming next. No amount of acid free paper can stop the clock from taking its toll on all our memories here, and yet I want to believe this longing we experience—the urge to create the statue, to freeze time in photographs, to want it to go on forever— I want to believe that longing will be satisfied. When we are promised that “everything will be made new,” it doesn’t mean “out with the old, in with the new,” but that all things created will be renewed.
No wonder Inge Parks gave all of Charles' sculptures away and no wonder Charles failed to even sign many of them. They understood that we can live and love deeply while we are here, but we can also let go of these momentos of the life that we’ve created, because we are looking toward the restoration of all things in Christ.
All of our treasures will be left to Eva when we are gone, whether she wants them or not. But after this week I’m deciding to listen to Jesus (and to Inge)— to trust that I don’t need to hold so tightly to things, but to share in the cherishing of all our blessings, here and now. When we let things go, as we watch others relish in all that God has given us— that is a joy so sparkly it shines beyond this world and straight into the world to come.