July 10, 2017
“Was this dad’s?” My mother examined the watch on my wrist. “I found it in the drawer of a dresser I kept in the closet in our Cassadaga house,” I said as I held out my arm.
“No, it wasn’t dad’s,” she answered. “Maybe it was Poppa Bailey’s.”
“That’s what I thought,” I replied. “If it wasn’t dad’s, it had to be poppa’s.”
It’s quite a nice piece, a self-winding Elgin with onyx panels on the band. Back before the days of electric quartz watches, self-winding was the cutting edge. The pendulum motion of your arm as you walked was supposed to keep it wound and running. Being probably sixty years old, I have to occasionally wind it, but when wound, it keeps good time, and looks good.
Wearing got me to thinking. I don’t know how much this watch would bring if I tried to sell it. Whatever price it would bring, the value of this particular watch cannot be measured in dollars and cents. The fact that it was owned by my grandfather is what makes it valuable to me. This bit of metal and glass represents a relationship that helped shape my life. It’s the relationship, the sentiment attached to it that gives it value.
So, how close is sentiment to idolatry? The biblical prohibition of images is not because the image itself is anything. The prohibited material images represented/personified the immaterial spiritual reality behind it. The material was the bridge between the spiritual reality and the earthly reality of the individual connected to it, much in the same way in which this material watch is a connection between my grandfather and me.
So is sentiment a form of idolatry? It’s possible, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that I need to be careful about my attachment to the many material items that have been passed down through the family. Sentiment may be permissible; idolatry is not, and the line between them may be thinner than I think. There are many things for which I am thankful tonight, one of which is the memories of my grandfather conjured up by this watch, a material item that in my mind and heart connected me once again to this diminutive man whose impact upon me was anything but diminutive. Along with my gratitude is my prayer that these material items not become idols that rival my loyalty to Christ.