Germantown

This is the first real travel since Covid began its long and challenging visit. I arrived two days ago in the City of Brotherly love, and have been settling in to a routine of prayer and discovery here in Germantown. I’m in Saint Margaret’s House at Saint Luke’s Church in Germantown. I am here as a participant in a short-term popup Christian community. I am here with a few members of the Community of Francis and Clare, a dispersed group of men and women, spread over the United States and elsewhere, who are living life in the world in the spirit of those two great saints given us all by the beautiful town of Assisi.

A word about Saint Luke’s Parish. The parish was founded in 1811, It is a good part of a city block, featuring an imposing rectory that houses the parish office, the beautiful church, Saint Barnabas Hall, and Saint Margaret’s House. (There may be more!). I will share some images here.

All whom we have met thus far have been extraordinarily welcoming. The rector has been gracious, and introduced us to the church Monday morning and then spent time in good conversation. It is enlightening to hear him speak about the parish through Covid and beginning in present days to emerge. They have a food pantry open twice weekly. Before pandemic in summer they provided breakfast, lunch, and a take-home dinner to kids. In Saint Margaret’s House, retreats take place several times a year, with new plans and possibilities ahead. I love the fact that one of the signs as you approach the parish center campus speaks of “the urban center at Saint Luke’s.” And I am gratified and inspired by the truth that they do what I have written of and much more by finding and winning grants and by teaming up with other organizations doing good work here. They even work with a group helping to provide a path for families who want to remain in the area to successfully buy their home over a generation to provide stability for families and the community into the future.

Here in Saint Margaret’s House, I marvel with gratitude at the graceful speed at which genuine community can be born and begin to deepen. As mentioned, the other visitors here are all members of a Franciscan community recently founded. They have a common history and converging interests. In addition, the gentleman who is resident in the House has connected with the group. I have felt welcomed and included in every way. This experience moves me to thank God for the living connective tissue of the heart that bonds disciples of Jesus already, even as we meet. This ‘head-start’ may be true also of folks who share a common interest in Romanesque architecture or the novels of Marilynne Robinson, or whatever. But it certainly is felt here and now.

For me this coming-to-a-halt in terms of the everyday seems already absolutely vital in a way that I had not previously imagined. Arriving March 1, 2020 at Saint Matthew’s in Worcester MA we fell together immediately headlong into the experience of pandemic that no one of us would have imagined. The time since, all of it, has been filled and fraught with stress and challenge and striving and loss and victory; with grief’s sorrow and the repeated near-death and renewed life of hope. All of it, absolutely all of it, absolutely exhausting; emptying out and reconfiguring the very soul in a way and to a depth that no other experience has even approached.

So to sit on the front step here this evening, a steaming mug of black tea clutched in two hands and simply to witness a “Welcome” banner blowing, and at my ground-level perch to look through the plant life toward the churchyard – as little as it sounds – is the stuff of rebirth, of resuscitation, of (as must be said in this season) shared resurrection with the Christ.

To sit long in conversation, to remain long in silent prayer, to walk long in new company – these little things are the stuff of life. They are a long deep breath of the created delights that the God of Eden and of Easter has brought to be, to be noticed, and to be lived. Here is the first time in an uncountable time to rest in the present passing moment with a sense of fullness; and in realizing that, with a grateful heart.

Next week will see a return to a place that became lastingly sacred to me during the summer of 2005. I look forward with joy to that place and time. I am also immensely happy to live this week, this evening, this moment in this time and place.

Seven

Closing a day outwardly silent and inwardly raucous

I strode through the island cemetery, eyes in motion

from earth to sky, water to land, past to present, life to death to life

and then, you; you whom I do not know and have not met

you whose life here in its wholeness came and concluded

long before I began that same journey;

there you are, and there I stopped.

7 days

7 days you lived, or parts thereof, in 1936

long ago, if not far away

you lived as we all do:

between wars and recession and prosperity and peace, epidemic and recovery

So long ago. I was stopped though by the angel placed on your grave

by some loving hand and heart, in recent times, after all the time.

Someone remembers still. Someone loves yet. Someone yearns to see you

and to be seen by you. I stopped. I was stopped.

And I shed tears; tears for the worth and the long life of love

and how in that still you live, your seven days becoming days of creation

ongoing lasting blooming in this cool spring

long since your infant life seemed to cease.

I ring tepidly sentimental to my own ear, but that’s not

how it feels; to stand here feels affirming of the strength of life

of the worth of humanity, of the light of divine Love and its

lovely lasting reflection in the human.

Little one, whomever you were and are

pray for us who stride today but who will lie near you

one long bright day, that we may walk in love

each day we receive; and

thank you for your seven. There is

perfection there.

On celebrating life and facing death

There is Irish folk music playing in the next room as I begin to write this morning. This is the heritage of my childhood and adolescence. Every Saturday our home (and the yard outside through Dad’s ‘transistor radio’ (!) was filled with the sounds of traditional instruments and familiar voices singing songs that had become part of the DNA of the household.

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. Today also marks 93 years since the birth of our mother, Mary Sweeney. She opened her eyes to the world in the very rural world of the west of Ireland on March 17, 1929. Her earthly life, of 91 years, formed her as a strong woman, faithful to the end to her family, and marked by what can only be called a fierce love. Fiercely aware and constant and independent. It was a teaching love as well. As in: this is how you live a human life. And so today, we celebrate her life as a family and with her remaining circle of friends. We celebrate with thanksgiving and joy.

It is also fifteen months ago since the conclusion of that remarkable life of emigration/immigration, marriage and childbearing, work and music and creativity; a life of attention to events the world over, as well as the range of emotions brought on over the years by her beloved Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins (the Celtics were a late addition!). It is fifteen months since the very early morning I sat by her bed for an hour and more, the body that had birthed us into the world lying still before me in the hours since her death. The silence of that hour was filled with what must have been a deeper prayer of sorrow and of gratitude than I had ever known. United with the initial emotions around Mom’s death were the soul-stirring remembrance of other like moments, stretching back to my paternal grandparents’ deaths in the 70’s and 80’s and through the passages of letting go of the company and conversation of our neighbor Hazel (like another grandmother) and our aunt Nonie (irreplaceable), and to the memory of the August morning at the beginning of this century, shrouded in thick fog, when our Dad was taken from us by cancer.

All these personal memories of what we often call loss are housed within a world which experiences the same on a planetary scale in every generation. To only concentrate on the months immediately prior and since Mom’s death is to recognize a landscape of loss in a worldwide pandemic, and now in the suffering of the people of Ukraine. And these in turn are in relationship to other massive seasons of grief around the world.

Those who struggle with grief – ultimately 7 billion of us – know that the struggle does not have an expiration date. That struggle does not even carry a worst by date that might correspond to the best by dates we became familiar with, labeled on the nourishment we buy to maintain life. Grief remains active and pushes above the surface of everyday life at various moments; sometimes we can recognize an immediate cause for the renewed sorrow, but oftentimes it is not evident.

Over this year and a quarter I have come to see that, within the grief that is a part of this world’s story (but not its whole story by any means), there are those losses that shift the personal landscape, our understanding of life, more than others. In lasting fashion. In the midst of a life which embraces meeting new people, appreciating old friendships, searching creatively for new ways to carry on, there are losses the weight of which cannot be measured on any scales usually provided.

When that happens, it is hard to admit. Hard to admit because the changes such an experience brings cut in both apparently positive and negative directions. In other words, in every life some friends, some family members, some mentors have an influence on us that does not end. Rather, it changes.

I have heard the assertion argued that it is possible to love a person too much. I understand and appreciate the argument. I would only respond that if that is true, it is at the same time not possible to love a person too well. When you have been loved very well (and been moved to love in return) in a manner that does not admit of measure at all, you have been changed. In that experience you have become more than you had been, and more than you otherwise might have been. More wise. Steadier. More loving yourself in relation to others.

That is the gift. There is an accompanying burden. It is this. From the morning or evening when that love is no longer accessible in earthly terms save in memory (a precious gift), the price to be paid for the gift given is a sorrow borne. Borne from then forward through all the days remaining. Parents who have suffered the death of a child know this truth. Soldiers who have lost compatriots at their side in the midst of battle know this. Medical professionals who have carried for us all the heaviest weight of pandemic know this. Spouses who have lived and loved side-by-side for decades and are then widowed know this. Adults whose lives have been embraced by the indefatigable unbreakable love of wonderful mothers and fathers know this. I know this.

To be loved well is to receive one of the best gifts possible. And in a passing world, that gift always comes with a price due. It is at last only the overarching love of God, the source of all love, that guarantees both the gift and the possibility of paying the price for the rest of life. And doing it with a grateful heart.

Happy Birthday Mom! And always, thank you.

The Irpin Pietá 2022

The agony of humanity

Is oft times captured

In one image, one cry, one word.

Today

A mother and two children

Lying lifeless on the streets of Ukraine.

A moment before, moving through the world

Perhaps seeking refuge

Or running for cover

Perhaps crying for the absence of a husband and father gone to fight the war.

Then the blast, the concussion, the light

Followed by silence, darkness, grief beyond naming

But that mother and her young ones carry names

They are the victims of war

They are the face of suffering

They are Christ lowered from the cross

When the empire has done its worst.

Remember them.

Love them.

Look for them on the day of Resurrection

And between now and then

Raise fist and voice, cradle them in your heart.

——————————————-