We are a few days into the season of Lent, traditionally a time of increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for Christians. I like to also do some additional spiritual reading and I am loving the reflections on stories about women in the Bible that my friend Rev. Pat Raube is sharing this year through her blog, A Swimmer in the Fount.

I admit that I am feeling discouraged this year, though. Trying to live a life of charity and advocating for social justice has become even more difficult here in the United States, with many threats to human dignity and to our environment. No matter how hard I try, I can’t protect people from difficulties or make things better for them.

At church this morning, I was looking toward the altar when something caught my eye. Instead of decorating with fresh flowers and plants, during Lent many churches feature bare branches, and our church has two fairly large trees on either side of the altar. I noticed that, high in the tree on the right side, the tip of a branch had broken and was hanging down, held by some bark or wood fibers.

I feel like that bit of broken branch, hanging down, bare, and useless. Still, it is in a place where it is protected from wind, so it won’t be disconnected entirely from the tree. Maybe enough connection remains that, when the sap rises, there can be some healing or some new growth from the brokenness.

Today, though, it does not feel that way.


SoCS: heartbreaking news

I am writing this on Friday as we await news on a former pastor, Father James.

He is in a coma in ICU and expected to die soon.

The news is heartbreaking.

I am not heartbroken for him, as he will be released from suffering and dwelling in God who is Eternal Love.

I am heartbroken for his family and friends and all his former parishioners who will miss his care, concern, sense of humor, and gentleness. Although he was retired, he said Mass at local parishes. Just in the last few weeks, I attended a couple of Masses at which he presided.

He was the pastor of a church I attended for over twenty years. He was the pastor for both of my daughters’ baptisms and first communions, as well as my elder daughter’s confirmation. I served on liturgy committee for him for many years, as well as participating in music ministry with my daughters.

After he retired, our parish, which I had known as a welcoming home, ran into major difficulties and eventually disintegrated. That is still heartbreaking.

It is also heartbreaking that the church building that we had renovated under his leadership is no longer a Catholic church. After being damaged in a second major flood, it was closed and, years later, sold to a nearby Christian college. They have recently re-opened it as their chapel, but it is no longer the place we built together. Even the stained glass windows had been removed.

We will lay him to rest from his boyhood church, though, which is fitting. That church is also the mother church in our area, meaning it is the oldest congregation.

One of his favorite Bible verses was from Micah 6:8:   “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

And he showed us how to do that.

Another passage is also coming to mind for me, from Matthew 25:21:  “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I am also thinking of a setting of the final commendation, which is a prayer at the end of Catholic funerals, that we used to sing in Resurrection Choir when Father James would be presiding at parish funerals. The setting was done by Ernest Sands and used this refrain:  “May the choirs of angels come to greet you. May they speed you to paradise. May the Lord enfold you in His mercy. May you find eternal life.”

Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “break/brake.” Join us! Find out how here: .

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Descriptions of Marriage

Re-blogging this post from my friend Rev. Pat Raube about the nature and definition of marriage and the decision yesterday of her church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), to establish marriage equality in their constitution:
I am happy to know that Pat can know officiate at weddings for any couple that is committed to living together as spouses. She writes:

As a result of this, the denomination in which I serve is now saying to all its members: You are welcome here. Your relationships are real and valid. God has made you who you know yourself to be, and we rejoice with you in what that means for the world. In your marriage we see– not pie in the sky perfection, but real human beings, children of God, striving to live with meaning and joy. Just like all the other married people, in the PCUSA, and beyond.


A Valentine’s funeral

Valentine’s Day morning found B and I in North Adams MA to attend the funeral of my aunt Helen. We were there not only to pay our own respects but also as representatives of the rest of my family, especially my parents who are not up to extended cold-weather car trips any more.

The funeral was small, mostly nieces and nephews with their spouses. I especially wanted to thank Marcia and Carl, who are related through Helen’s husband Stewart, who died several years ago, as they had been the ones who had visited and run errands for Helen and Stewart through over ten years in the nursing home. My mom and Marcia often spoke by phone, so that my parents could keep up with news of Helen, especially after she couldn’t talk to my dad on the phone herself.

Helen’s longtime Baptist minister led the service, with my cousin Cairn giving the eulogy. I read a Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 13, which was a favorite of both Helen’s and mine. Cairn thoughtfully gave me Helen’s personal Bible, given to her almost eighty years ago in Sunday school, her name embossed in gold on the black leather cover, with dried flowers, ribbons, prayer cards, a church bulletin, bookmarks, and copies of her parents’ obituaries tucked among the pages. There were old photos on display in the funeral home and one of her stenographer’s notebooks, showing her skill at the now-lost art of shorthand.

Most of the remembrances of Helen were from her younger days as the eldest of seven children and later as a devoted spouse, watchful aunt, and super-efficient and respected executive secretary, the time period that I remember.  We lived about twenty miles away and would often visit at their home on the weekends. I remember playing with my sisters in their large backyard and attending holiday parties that Helen loved to host. Helen would often compose little poems for special occasions and liked to have people contribute to celebrations. I remember one Christmas party when we were each to bring something for the tree and my older sister made oil of wintergreen in the school chemistry lab as her offering.

Helen’s last decade-plus was very different, as she developed Alzheimer’s. While some things stayed constant until very nearly the end – her love of coffee, her joy in attending and singing at church services, her fondness for dolls and stuffed animals – others were permanently lost. In many ways, the woman that we all knew has been gone much longer than the days since her death earlier this month.

Born in 1922, Helen was the eldest of seven. My father, who turns 90 in a few weeks, was the third child and first son in the family. Of the four children who lived past the age of 70, my father is the only one not to have succumbed to Alzheimer’s, as their father had. My dad’s only surviving sibling is his youngest brother who is currently living in a nursing home in CT. My dad is the only one left who can recall the old family lore. I’ve been asked with such strong family history how my father has been spared; everyone always said that he took after his mother’s side of the family and perhaps that is what saved him from developing Alzheimer’s.

Despite the cold and snowy New England winter, we were able to bring Helen to the cemetery after the service where she is now resting beside her husband. It wasn’t until we arrived there and saw the headstone that I remembered she will also be resting beside her youngest sibling – and Cairn’s mother – Bev, who we lost decades ago to eclampsia. Bev was born on Helen’s 17th birthday and now the oldest and the youngest are finally reunited.

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