The Radiant God of Basketball

This reflection on the “Catholic imagination” of a child, by Karen Ullo, is a wonderful example of the role of art and artists in the Church. It’s also a compelling look at the way children’s “sacramental imaginations” are formed by their parents. It was found on the Tuscany Press website.

A few weeks ago, my four-year-old son told me he saw God on our neighbor’s basketball goal. Since he has a developmental language disorder, he can’t answer open-ended questions like, “What do you mean?”  So I attacked the problem of clarification using multiple choice:

“Was it a picture of God or the real God?”

“Real God.”

“Was it the letters G-o-d or the real God?”

“Real God.”

At a loss to think what else he might have seen, for a while, I had to leave it at that. My son had become a mystic at the ripe old age of four, and I was left to ponder how the Creator of the Universe could somehow make Himself manifest on a basketball goal. Yet, as a Catholic, it was my privilege to imagine it could be possible.

As the music director at a Catholic church, it is also my privilege–and my job–to communicate the presence of God to our parish assembly through my art. Through the years, I have come to realize such melodic communication requires more imagination than most people, or even most music directors, realize. It is not enough to provide technically proficient music that conforms to the standards of the current liturgical documents. Growing in our awareness of God requires that we challenge the unconscious boxes we have drawn around our faith and let Him permeate our living in ways we never thought about before. It requires that we remain rooted in our traditions, certain of our identity as Catholics and as God’s children, as when we sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday.

But, for the women at the tomb, that first Easter morning was anything but an old familiar tune. It is important to be startled sometimes by new revelations of God’s beauty, to dare to try to praise him with a new facet of our souls. That is why I have, once in a while, had the choir sing Gospel music at Easter, or Renaissance polyphony at Christmas. It is also why this past Lent I taught our congregation to sing certain pieces completely a cappella, so that they could hear the splendor of their own voices raised in supplication and praise.

Yet I must always approach my musical experiments in the full humility of knowing Christ’s sacrifice of the Mass needs no help from me to be complete. It is perhaps easier for music to interfere with a congregation’s prayer than to enhance it, and I have certainly been accused of such a fault on multiple occasions. I take these complaints to heart, but the criticism does not absolve me of the duty to keep imagining.  St. Paul tells us that we see God now “as in a mirror darkly.” I think it is the duty of every Catholic artist – musician, painter, writer, all of us – to try to turn the angle of the mirror, to help others catch just a tiny glimpse of some new element of God’s glory they never saw before.

My neighbor’s basketball goal has a clear Plexiglas backboard. It turns out that the morning dew had turned it white, and, because of illustrations in a book that show God wearing a white robe, my four-year-old associates God with the color white. Every morning now, God appears on the basketball goal. My son is not a “mystic” in the word’s most proper sense; he’s just a kid who, because of a Catholic artist, sees God working in the world. And because his imagination has been captured, he has in turn shown me God’s presence in new ways; he reminds me that it is God who sends the morning dew. That is the power of a simple children’s book. That is the power of art when we let the one true Artist do His work through our humble and prayerful imaginations.

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