I'm having some tough times right now. But there's an article in the new issue of America magazine about Gothic cathedrals, with a photo of Chartres, and I decided to cheer myself up a bit with a reprint of a summer 2007 post with photos from the previous summer's trip:
Reasons that might explain why Notre Dame de Chartres Cathedral is one of my Top Ten Places on the planet, maybe even one of my Top Five or Top Three:
1. The towers are different, asymmetrical, which appeals tremendously to my personal sense of the slightly off-kilter God in all things.
Karen has been writing about scattering her daughter's ashes this past week, and we have plans to scatter more of Josh's later this week, since we will be in North Carolina in places deeply inhabited by his memory.
When I did a presentation on the grief of suicide survivors for a seminary class this past spring, cremation and ashes were the subjects that generated the most questions. In our culture, cremation is becoming more common, but we have not yet developed much in the way of ritual to accompany the task, and many of its realities are, like so much related to the practicalities of death, seldom discussed. We learned about cremation mostly from friends sitting around our kitchen table in the days immediately following Josh's death. The funeral director offered other help; I discussed it a bit more with a priest friend but, as Catholics do not believe in scattering ashes in various locales, he wasn't able to offer much there. We never discussed it with our own pastors. A few months ago, I was the one to provide the explanations and possibilities to a friend whose husband was dying.
One of the reasons I raised the whole topic in my presentation at school was that I believe that pastors should know to inform families that they can accompany the bodies of their loved ones to the crematorium, that they should be prepared to offer the possibility of prayer and other ritual at the time of cremation, and that that they should be aware that families are dealing with precious cremains on their own, finding their own ways to handle the shock and devising their own rituals.
A friend who lost a daughter in her twenties to a sudden accident asked me if I had looked inside the urn when we picked it up. "Oh, yes, immediately," I said. I had gone back to the funeral home with Josh's twin brother, and we opened the urn there. "I looked at those flecks of bone and thought, 'They grew in my body,' " I said. "That's exactly what I thought," she said. " 'Bone of my bone.' "
"How do you transport small amounts of ashes?" I asked a friend whose son had died by suicide, and who has scattered ashes in many parts of the world. "Film canisters," she said. "I had to ask my other children to transfer them from the urn the first time. I couldn't bear it."
My husband doesn't do ashes. He goes with me, usually (not this week). But I don't think that he has ever looked closely at them.
I find that the ashes, scattered in places that mean something to us, create new bonds among those of us who find ways to make something of this yet another unwanted experience. Karen's photographs and words this week present a powerful argument for fighting back against childhood cancer. I feel much the same about ashes as a symbol in opposition to suicide. Ours were once the body of a vibrant, creative, and joyful young man, who was stolen from us by illness as surely and completely as Katie was from those who loved her.
They float in the sea, they settle into the earth.
They represent dashed dreams, crushed hopes, bodily brokenness beyond repair.
They represent love too powerful to be dashed or crushed or broken.
We scatter what little we have left, honoring final requests and
Several months ago, a friend of mine told me about a neighborhood acquaintance who had died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and three children.
(Aside: I used to think that if only my son had had children, he could have survived; surely he would have found a way to live for them. I have learned that, as with just about everything else related to suicide, my gut assumption was wrong.)
My friend told me that he felt so helpless; he had no idea what to do.
"Mark your calendar for six months from now," I said, "and invite them to dinner. By then everyone will have drifted away, and most people will have no idea how searing the pain is with which they live every minute. Just invite them to dinner and make space for conversation."
This afternoon, after a meeting at church, he reminded me of our own conversation and said, "They're coming for dinner tonight."
I had, of course, completely forgotten our discussion, but it's the same suggestion I make to everyone who has the courage to admit not knowing what to do. Mark your calendar. Six months, nine, a year, three years, whatever. I promise you that, in the absence of an announcement by the bereaved family, yours will be almost the only note or call or invitation they receive. And that it will mean more than you will ever know.
The Lovely Daughter and I are off to Jamestown NY in a few minutes, to celebrate a baby shower for my nieces, sisters who are each expecting a first baby in August. One boy and one girl on the way!
Meanwhile, my dear friend Karen is celebrating her birthday today, after having yesterday scattered her own Lovely Daughter Katie's ashes at a camp that brought joy and meaning into Katie's and her family's lives. Please go and wish Karen a happy birthday, either on her blog or on FB.
So much love, mothers and children, on both sides of the country, and a reminder that that love comes at a terrible risk to hearts that are sometimes broken wide open and themselves scattered in pieces that sparkle across the wide, wide universe.
OK, I redecorated my blog and it looks all summery and nice and . . . where is everyone???? If I play the Friday Five, will you stop by? Songbird asks us to list five summer things we love and five we don't, so:
1. Chautauqua Institution. I have decided I am going to try to go over and hear BBT preach at least one day at the end of July. If any RevGals will be in the vicinity, let me know and we can plan accordingly!
2. The mountains of North Carolina, where I expect to be at the end of next week as I accompany The Lovely Daughter down to her camp counselor job. Like Chautauqua, they are home to wonderful and now heartbreakingly challenging memories, and like Chautauqua, they will soon be home to some precious ashes.
(That's my girl, lower left in the gray Gwynn Valley t-shirt, in a camp promotional photo.)
3. Lemonade; even the most ordinary glass brings back lovely memories of my grandmother welcoming us home and bringing tall glasses filled with ice and lemonade out to the brick patio under the maple tree.
4. Very early morning walks; early sunshine and quiet times at the Little Lakes.
5. Feet: flip-flops and Tevas and sparkles on top of dark red nail polish.
I don't not love anything about summer except the humidity. We don't have AC and I am already tired of requiring a fan, a glass of ice, and a cold washcloth to achieve even a restless sleep.
So, put on your flip-flops and stop by for some lemonade in the sweltering shade!
Well, not that far. (Although a whiff of the plains of western Canada blew through.) But for two days, we did have the pleasure of Stratoz's company. We shared dinner and gelato, wandered through the art museum, and visited the Tiffany-designed chapel at the cemetery, whose mosaics will, I hope, entice his wife for a visit. I now have a lovely mosaic cross on my living-room wall and two jazz CDs in my car, personally put together (it must have taken hours!) by the man to whom months ago I posed the question: How would someone get started listening to jazz? He did a very good job, selecting mostly pieces which I would recognize so that I can ease into a different way of listening.
S and I met as bloggers with a shared interest in Ignatian spirituality from something of an outsider's viewpoint, neither of us being Catholic. I think that made it easy for us to find common ground ~ ground which even my own family does not share. He was our first guest, outside of very close family and friends, since Josh died, and while he was here I was acutely aware of how reticent and quiet we have become in the past two years. We are very fragile, and we move around, among ourselves and in the world, with considerable caution, I think. It was a very good thing to spend time with a friend who is attuned to life lived this way.
I don't think I quite have this guest/exchange blogging thing down.
Michelle of Quantum Theology and I are posting in one another's blogs on occasion this summer as we discuss Martin Laird's Into the Silent Land. I'm starting to think about the next set of topics, and it occurs to me that I should provide direct links to my posts at Michelle's place. I'm not sure whether she's thought to do the same ~ oh yeah, I see that she did ~, but I think it makes sense.
And I'm engrossed in the topic of God's suffering (or not), which is generating fascinating conversations, irl and on both blogs. I suppose I am going to have to return to the density of Moltmann soon; perhaps he will be more comprehensible Now than he was Before.
It's quite wonderful, to be able to read at my own pace and follow each rabbit trail as it makes itself apparent.
Seminary ~ it seems like a dream. It's so odd; it feels as if I've dropped back into my old life after some time away, except that of course it isn't my old life anymore. Everything is encircled by, encased in, enveloped in the loss of Josh. I keep feeling that I should be able to fix that, but apparently I can't.
For the last three years, two of them under the weight of this terrible gone-ness of my child, I have been focused on preparation for ministry. And for the last eighteen consecutive months (since I took summer Hebrew, there was only a short break last August), I have concentrated intently upon the academic dimension of that preparation. Classes and meetings to attend, stacks of reading to complete and papers to write, constant deadlines. Hours and hours of driving back and forth between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Field ed sermons and classes and worship services to prepare. More deadlines.
Suddenly it's all over, and I have no place in particular to be, no moment a few days away by which three different things must be done. And no real prospects for that changing anytime soon.
This is, apparently, a time in which to be open to . . . whatever. Just do a little of what's in front of you ~ that's what I sense I'm being called to. Clear off and organize the materials on a table or counter. Chose a paint color for the guest bedroom. Write some more thank you notes. Sort out and give away clothing. Take long walks. Listen to the silence. Try to be open to what's next.
It's disconcerting. One of my classmates is being ordained in a few weeks. Others are still working in churches where they have been for months or years, or leading summer mission trips, or . . . something. They are active, serving God and others, as they await ordination exam re-takes or the fruition of the search process.
And it seems that I am called to . . . go downstairs and go through the piles of books and papers stacked in the sunroom.
I suppose there's a sermon in there somewhere. Or, and perhaps more importantly, a prayer. Time to watch and listen.
This is a fairly new monument in the cemetery in which I walk. I love it. To me, it evokes the balance that seems so elusive in those contexts that bring us to cemeteries. She embraces the flowers, her face sad but calm; she faces the wind that blows her hair back and gazes quietly into . . . whatever it is.
One of my great privileges over the past year has been to study with a brilliant new member of the seminary faculty. He appeared for the last quarter of my second year to teach a class on Christology. I'd already taken the course, but a friend mentioned one night that I might want to visit the new guy's class which I ended up doing almost every week following. He was teaching not only the subject at hand, but also how to evaluate various theological approaches. Finally! ~ I felt that I was getting that for which I had gone to seminary: the opportunity to begin to learn to think like a theologian.
I did an independent study with this professor the next (this past winter) quarter on the subjects of sin, grace, and freedom. I'm sure that I was a consistent disappointment to him, in that my complete lack of background in philosophy meant that the readings were virtually incomprehensible to me, but I did struggle through them. And then I audited his course on Stanley Hauerwas and took his course on Miroslav Volf. In the end, I was able to graduate with the sense that I had learned a tiny bit about Reformation and contemporary theology and a tiny bit about how to approach my own future study, and had found a friend with whom I could continue the conversation.
I had a question for him last week, and in response he sent me a paper he'd written in grad school. The overall question has to do with God's emotional life, but I thought we'd start with the question within the question: Does God suffer? It's been a topic of significant debate during the past century, and is for obvious reasons of great interest to me.
What do you think? Does God suffer? Does it matter to you whether or not God does? Are you comforted or reassured one way or the other? Does the question bother you?Go for it ~
The Quiet Husband does NOT want another cat. This has been a matter of some contention.
The Lovely Daughter and a friend have rented an apartment (a block away - yay!) for next year, which her friend will move into on July 1. (The LD is off to North Carolina that day for her summer camp counseling job, and will move when she gets back.) They were going to get a cat, but one materialized yesterday. At a bar, to which someone brought three kittens who had been dumped at his house.
So the Little Gray Cat is here for a couple of weeks. S/he (gender undisclosed) is quite fierce and Tipper the Dog looks somewhat depressed.
~ Went to my home church today. We were honoring graduates, so I got some nice hugs.
~ The gospel text today is the story of the "sinful" woman in Luke who weeps and kisses Jesus' feet as she anoints them with oil and wipes them with her hair. (During Lent, I preached on the version of this story that appears in John's gospel.) Four reasons why I love my church: (1) In her introductory remarks, one of our pastors made the point that whenever Jesus interacts with a woman, something significant is going on, and since this story of his interaction with a woman is told in in all four gospels, we are talking major significance. (2) I can characterize her remarks as "introductory" because today the sermon was a congregational group discussion rather than a pastoral homily. (3) One of the folks who spoke up said that she thinks that Jesus and this woman must have had a previous encounter, and always wonders about that back story. (Great sermon topic there.)(Or discussion topic.) (4) Instead of the usual focus on forgiveness that this story generates, our emphasis this morning was on Jesus' extension of inclusion in community. All good stuff, all hallmarks of our church.
~ One of Josh's high school teachers and his wife have recently joined our church, and so I pulled him aside to talk to tell him about Josh. As it turned out, he knew that Josh had died, but not how. The strangest thing: after a conversation like that, I always think: OK, all done; he'll be back tonight.
~ I am trying to create an account so that I can sign up to re-take my Exegesis exam. The length of confirmation time is not bolstering my confidence in the PC(USA) capability for online registration.
~ I am also trying to get my passport application finished. I realized last week that I can't just dash up to Algonquin to scatter ashes because my passport is no longer valid.
~ My hair is much shorter and browner than it was at my graduation a week ago.
~ I am going to another graduation today, that of the Jewish school at which I once taught. In fact, I taught all of the seniors who were there then in both 8th and 9th grade, so I know them well. There will be some screeching. "Ms. Craig! Ms. Craig! Are you a rabbi yet?!" Well, no ~ there is this little matter of YOUR language . . . .
~ My father is quite ill. My family's dynamics are challenging at their best, but I will probably plunge into the middle of them later this week.
~ Another good thing about my church: our summer lay preachers series. (How I got started in the pulpit!) A friend sent me his first sermon draft ever a few hours ago. I must be at a new place, if people are sending me drafts to critique.
~ My imaginary walk has gotten me to Nauset Beach. Another scene of high school adventures. I could never stand up on a surfboard, so maybe misadventures is the more appropriate term.
If you wander around in the back, looking for the sheep and goats and cows, eventually you stumble upon a tiny cottage with an extravagant herb garden out front. Inside, on the ground floor, an art room, a small library on herbal remedies, and beautifully displayed objects ~ baskets and gords and photos~ from the past. Upstairs (via ladder):
I spent the first two days of this week at a workshop for spiritual directors held on the richly diverse 700+ acre home of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in western Pennsylvania. A brief tour of the Magnificat Chapel:
The woodcarving of Mary, made by Cleveland sculptors, stands in the narthex, facing the chapel.
Fiber wall hangings behind the gathering space were made by one of the Sisters.
The cross looks like a jewel, with its silver, gold, and red enamel, and twelve bells symbolizing, according to a guidebook, the noise and celebrational sound of apostles.
Three sacramental oils are displayed on a side wall; green is the oil of catechumens.
The windows create amazing patterns of light across the chapel early and late in the day.
I had mixed feelings about the workshop itself, but I love the Sisters' chapel. Later: photos of their very different (!) Zen prayer room .
For this Friday Five, let's ponder the various ways we work out (or not), physically, spiritually, and/or psychologically:
1. Do you work out, physically, spiritually, or psychologically? (I'll let you define what that might mean to you.)
Physically ~ I walk 3-4 miles almost every day, and I've started trying to go to the gym every other day. I have to set the Nautilus weights at something like 10 pounds.
Spiritually ~ I listen to Pray As You Go most mornings, I spend a lot of my walking time in prayer, I keep a journal, I see my spiritual director every month, and I try to do the Examen at night.
Psychologically ~ My entire life is a psychological workout.
2. Are you more inclined to join a gym or a book club?
I seem to have joined the gym (it's month-to-month.) Several of my friends formed a book club while I was off at seminary and I went once, but it didn't go so well for me. I might try it next month, when they're discussing The Help.
3. Are you more inclined to read self-help books like Gail Sheehy's Passages or spiritual books like Richard Rohr or Theresa of Avila? And if so, what is your favorite?
I do skim through self-help books, usually standing in a bookstore aisle. I have shelf upon shelf of spiritual books, but I'm not sure that I have a favorite. Maybe Thomas Merton, maybe Mary Oliver (whose poetry books I categorize as spiritual).
4. Are you a loyal fan of a sports team? or do you join the bandwagon when the local team is winning? And if so, which one?
I have no knowledge whatever of sports teams.
5. Or do you lean more toward having a favorite theologian/spiritual writer or self-help author and if so, who?
In addition to those listed above, I'm pretty big on Miroslav Volf these days.
Bonus: What was the last play-off series you watched and did your team win?
Probably my daughter's high school soccer tournament, which would have been 5.5 years ago. They didn't get very far.
Here we go! Below you'll find the first guest post written by Michelle of Quantum Theology, in which she provides a great deal of information about Augustinian friars, about whom I previously knew next to nothing:
Before all else, I want to say thank you to Robin for this invitation to visit her blog, and that I'm very excited about her guesting at my space! Robin and I met (epistolary if not literally) several years ago, through the RevGalBlogPals webring we both belong to. We share an interest in Ignatian spirituality — Robin is a spiritual director in the Ignatian tradition and we have have both made St. Ignatius' Spritual Exercises, Robin in everyday life with an extraordinarily gifted and experienced Jesuit director, while I spent 30-days wrapped in silence at the Jesuit retreat house in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Recently, both of us have been reading Into the Silent Land, a small, wonderful book about deepening a practice of Christian contemplation. I'm drawn to the rich mix of the mystic, the academic and the pragmatic that the author, Martin Laird, OSA, stirs up for us.
Speaking of the author, the first question Robin asked me is about the author. Martin Laird is an Augustinian friar, and since I regularly join the Augustinian community at my parish to pray the Litugy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office), Robin wonders: what makes an Augustinian?
The OSA stands for Ordo Sancti Augustini (Order of Saint Augustine in Latin; this is the Roman Catholic communion after all). And while the order traces its roots to St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430), the foundations of the modern order date to the 13th century. The Augustinians are one of the major orders in the Church, in company with the Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, and of, course, the Jesuits, founded by St. Ignatius.
The Augustinian friars are monastics who live out the evangelical counsels — poverty, chastity and obedience — but are not enclosed in their monasteries like the Trappists that Thomas Merton belonged to or the Carthusians of Into Great Silence, but venture forth to minister. Villanova University, just down the road from me, was founded by the Augustinians, and education is a major apostolate for them. (And for the science geeks among us, Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, was an Augustinian monk.)
Perhaps more relevant to venturing into The Silent Land, the Augustinians value their life in community, in balance with a serious attention to the interior life. The rule requires that there be places that the monks can go and give their full undisturbed attention to prayer. They seek explicitly to encounter God in Holy Scripture. For me, watching this balance between community life and the interior life and prayer in common and individual prayer play out has been formative in my own spiritual life. And spending all that time with people who are seeking God in His Word is in all likelihood what drew me to Ignatian spirituality.
In the mornings, the move from bustle and banter to a full and focussed attention on prayer never ceases to amaze me. The praying of the Hours may be required by the Rule of the order, but it is an office of love for these men. I've been praying the Hours with the Augustinians for 20 years, and through that, they have had the forming of me. When I made the Exercises, I had a very hard time laying down the Office, and even as the contemplations of the Passion grew more intense, clung to it. When I washed up in my director's office at the end of the 3rd week it became clear that Hours were not something I said, even in the midst of the taut exhaustion of those final meditations, but prayed from the depths of my heart. The psalms are in my bones, put there by two generations of Augustinians.
I'm not an Augustinian, so I can't really say what it is like to be one, but from where I sit, I might say that they are men who have a serious interior life, are grounded in scripture and who live out a life of service, drinking from those two fonts. So I'm not surprised to find an Augustinian writing a book about the contemplative Christian life!
(Image: St. Augustine as painted by Botticelli in 1480, here.)
Michelle and I "met" through some combination, now blurred in memory (mine at least) of our mutual RevGalsparticipation, experiences of family loss, and love for Ignatian spirituality. I'm not sure exactly how this will turn out, but I hope you'll all enjoy the effort. Michelle is a Catholic who's also involved in Augustinian community life (which I'm hoping she'll explain), a chemistry professor who writes a column on prayer for her local Catholic paper, and a wife and mom of teenage boys who teaches contemplative classroom practice.
We're also hoping that our author, a professor of religious studies and philosophy at Villanova University, will put in an appearance. What fun! ~ to explore a writer's work through conversation with a good friend, and then to hear his response to ours!
I'm off at the crack of dawn tomorrow for a two-day retreat/conference featuring Bill Barry, S.J., the author of numerous books beloved by spiritual directors, at least by those in the Ignatian tradition.
Interestingly, the concept of God as friend, God seeking friendship with us, became something of a hot topic at seminary this year, thanks to one of my favorite professors and his work on supralapsarian Christology. I had not realized that God's friendship was a matter of controversy, having spent considerable time in the company of people for whom it is not, but I see now that even Bill Barry acknowledges it as having been a challenging concept for him at first.
I am very much looking forward to the next two days, to be spent in the company of many friends in the spiritual direction community. The topic has to do with experiences of spiritual direction in which your own (the director's) faith is challenged, which has caused me to think (only a tiny bit, admittedly) about what it has been like for my own spiritual director the last 21 months, contending with my grief, sadness, and desolation. Someday, I suppose, it will be me, accompanying people through unthinkable trauma and loss.
So ~ I'm hoping to learn a lot. This conference should be a really nice way to begin my new life adventures ~ the ones about which I haven't a clue.
Always both things at once: a bench in a cemetery in memory of my beloved son, and a baccalaureate service and graduation ceremony tonight and tomorrow night.
Seminary has been a very different experience from the one I had anticipated. (Understatement there.) Many, many years ago, when it was nothing more than a passing thought (or so I surmised) in my mind, I had lunch one day with a student in-process from my then-church. He was in (or past!) mid-life, a hugely successful trial attorney; I was a mother of three young children. "Academically, you won't have any trouble," he said. "As an attorney, you're accustomed to digesting vast amounts of unfamiliar material." (What can I say? He's Methodist, and so Greek and Hebrew were not in the picture for him.) "But at this time of life, there are other things . . . ".
Oh yeah. There are.
Yesterday, someone from my school posted a FB comment for someone else: "I can promise you that nothing in life will ever be as difficult as that Greek paper you just finished for Dr. X."
I can't say that I exactly laughed. And seriously, my hopes for the two of them go something like this:
As we planted flowers around the bench the other day, my friend, whose husband has been seriously ill and increasingly and almost completely disabled over the last sixteen years, told me of a conversation she had had with a friend when our kids were small and she was agonizing over where to send her son to preschool. (Thankfully, she eventually chose the Montessori school in which my children were enrolled, setting the stage for our wonderful friendship of twenty years.) Her friend, a Holocaust survivor, leaned over and said, "Sweetie . . . may this be the most difficult challenge of your life."
Well, I thought Greek was pretty awful when it was on my plate, and Hebrew wasn't much better. But overall, my academic career has gone well. I wish I could have been involved in the activities and events to which I had looked forward during my second and third year of seminary but, as I've said before, grief takes about 500% of your energy. Whatever else you have to do gets squeezed into what's left. So I squeezed in what I could, and fantastic professors and wonderful friendships came my way. And while I wondered pretty much 24/7 what I could possibly have to offer in ministry, I don't think I ever wavered from the sense that it is the call to which God is beckoning me. Even when God's silence was deafening. Oh, I wobbled a lot. I guess it's a good thing that I crossed all those creeks via unstable logs when I was growing up. I wobbled a LOT, but I didn't fall off.
Last night I got an email from someone at my field ed church, telling me how much it meant to have me there, knowing that as the year passed, I was experiencing the holidays as she was. I had not known that she felt that way. I figured that people just thought that . . oh, who knows what they thought? But at least one person was apparently seeing it more or less like this: "She knows exactly the sorrow I know, and she's leading the Call to Worship anyway."
Perhaps that's why . . .
I'm graduating! (And yes, I'm going.)
(P.S. Three more miles yesterday and three in the next couple of hours, for a total of 13. I'm somewhere in the vicinity of Wellfleet now.)
I think that my brother put it best when he said on FB," In the midst of thinking of those who protect us and have given so much, and those who have gone before us in our own lives....whom we miss so much."
In our family, at least in recent generations, we have not been touched by death in wartime. My own family's generations were slightly off the timetable; my husband's father and his three brothers all headed for Europe in WWII, and they all came home.
But my brother and I, we miss our mother, and our brother, and our grandparents, and our stepmother Jewel, and now our son and nephew.
My brother did the work in getting this bench in memory of Josh placed in the cemetery in which I walk so often. Due to various foul-ups, it took the past nine months for the task to be completed, but this last week-end the mother of one of Josh's best friends and I were able to plant some impatiens. The bench is on a dirt path in the woods; the view through the tress is of a small lake, where mallards and wood ducks sailed by this morning. I like to think that those few cemetery visitors who are a bit adventurous in leaving the main roads and paths will find some delight in stumbling upon this small patch of color, and that the words, "And may perpetual light shine upon him" will deflect a bit of the sadness coming from the dates indicating that a young man, a boy, really, died far too soon.