Adventures in Art Appreciation, Ash Wednesday version

I stopped by the Milwaukee Art Museum this week to see a terrific photo show, and also to collect the mug the museum gives to renewing members every year.

I almost didn’t bring the mug home. This year’s features a painting of an old French peasant bent nearly double beneath the bundle of firewood he’s carrying on his back. At his feet, his little granddaughter picks woodland flowers.

Ils pensent à quoi? I’ve bundled up enough pruned lilac branches in my time to shudder at how much weight the old man is carrying, and sure, the little girl is cute, but in 20 years, if she survives childbirth, she’ll be as gaunt and haggard as le vieux père. The morning paper brings quite enough misery to the breakfast table, merci beaucoup; I really don’t need another dose that early in the day.

I was thinking about writing the museum staff a note asking for something a little more upbeat next year in hopes of warding off Entrapped Otter or the The People’s Bank Shortly Before the Crash, or perish forbid, St. Francis of Assisi in His Tomb (which actually is one of my favorites, just not at breakfast).

But then I had an Aha! moment.

For those of us who hail from certain Christian traditions (i.e., the ones with the most to repent), today is the first day of Lent, a six-week slog toward Easter during which we’re supposed to focus on getting our lives re-oriented to what’s important, which may or may not involve doing without chocolate for the duration.

It occurred to me that this mug would be a great excuse to bring back the tradition of the Holy Money Jar we started when the boys were small to teach them about sharing their allowance with the poor. (When I was in school, we called it a Sacrifice Jar, but that seemed weird by the time I had kids so I updated the name. And anyway, sacrifice literally means to make holy.) In the Jewish tradition—where we Christians probably got the idea in the first place—it’s called a tzedakah box, tzedakah being the obligation to share a portion of what one has with the poor {waves to Barry, from whom I learned about this long before Wikipedia came along}.

So from now until the end of Lent, any spare change in my purse is going into my new French Naturalism tzedakah mug. It’s too late to ease the burden of the woodcutter or help his granddaughter get into a good école, but I’m sure there are Francophones in Haiti who could still use some help come April.

Suggestions for specific relief groups, especially any writer-related, will be gratefully accepted in the comments.

© 2010 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go
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4 Responses to Adventures in Art Appreciation, Ash Wednesday version

  1. What a nice tradition, the Holy Money Jar. I think my niece would like to know about this for her young family.


  2. Anne Bingham says:

    Let me know how it works for her, Catherine! Our boys had a miserable allowance compared with their peers—basically a $1 per year of age—but they did contribute from that (minimum suggested donation, 25¢). Sometimes for Lent we’d use the fold-up cardboard boxes from church, and one year we had cool arks from the Heifer International, but mostly the Holy Money Jar was a recycled baking powder can with a coin slot cut in the lid.

    Now I’m wishing I’d been more creative. Using the battery-operated Darth Vader bank would have certainly increased the take, although I suspect hearing “You have failed me for the last time” is not the ideal takeaway, and there is much to be said for not having one’s donation broadcast throughout the house.


  3. Z says:

    I had an equally weird encounter with a holiday (Lent as holiday! Evelyn Waugh used to give up sarcasm for Lent—and that’s when he wrote biography).

    Valentine’s Day, our local opera company did Pagliacci—are you familiar with it? Cuckholded husband kills wife and wife’s lover in a play-within-a play. The double murder takes place in front of a full house including women, children—even a couple of dogs?

    Yikes. Like the Director of the Opera broke up with his girlfriend and then his cat died so he was all “We’re doing Pagliacci for Valentine’s Day, shut up.”



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