crying does not help dry eyes

B and I traveled to Syracuse yesterday to attend the last service and concert that daughter T will do with the Hendricks Chapel Choir. Although she is a student at ESF, not Syracuse U., she is able to participate in activities at SU.

On the ride up, I had told B that, at some point, I would probably dissolve in tears. Since Grandma died six weeks ago, I’ve barely teared up. I thought that I might be okay until we were with our daughters at the graveside service later this month, but I didn’t know.

On Saturday, we had attended the funeral of the mother of one of B’s co-workers. I had managed to get through the whole funeral, even though we were singing some of the familiar hymns that usually evoke tears.

I was not expecting the confluence of events on Sunday.

I expected some emotion as we witnessed the last in a very long string of academic choral events, stretching from E’s first concert as a kindergartener, going through both daughters’ elementary, middle and high schools, college, and finally T’s last service and concert as a master’s student.

Of course, there is still the fresh memory of Grandma’s death, ever-present below the surface.

What hit harder than I expected, though, was that this was the final ecumenical Christian service being held at Hendricks Chapel by Rev. Colleen, the last in an 85-year string of chaplains provided to the university by the United Methodist church.

Endings are sad.

This one, in particular, as a dynamic, young woman was being pulled away from a community that she loved and served and that loved her in return. The choir is having to search for a new musical mission, as their primary function for decades has been to  provide music for this service every Sunday.

What was unexpected for me was that this dynamic called forth not only the obvious present losses but also many long-ago ones.

Hearing the pipe organ reminded me of how much I miss playing – or even hearing – a pipe organ on a regular basis. Nearly all the organs I hear in churches at home are electronic. I can no longer play due to orthopedic problems. I have generally made peace with that, but there are moments…

The ending of a church as we have known it also brought back two other similar losses.

First was the loss of chaplaincies and regularly held services at Smith College, my alma mater.

I had spent many, many hours in Helen Hills Hills chapel, practicing, service playing, rehearsing, singing, and accompanying. I was married there a few weeks after my commencement.  When I returned to campus, I always visited the chapel and a tree planted beside it in memory of a member of my class who died in a plane accident our senior year.

I still go to visit, but it is so odd to see the chapel, which was modeled on New England Congregational churches, without its pews, replaced by clunky wooden chairs, stacked or arranged in circles or rows, depending on if the last event has been a concert or lecture or whatever. It feels empty in a way it never did when I was there alone but when it was being used for services of various traditions on a regular basis.

Second, was the loss of our home church eleven years ago. This was even more painful as T and I went through it together. T lost the only church she had ever known, where she was baptized and made her first communion, where she had sung in choir since she was in third grade and had rung handbells since sixth grade. I had been in liturgical service, both in liturgy planning and music ministry for many years. I had written music for the choir and congregation. I had accompanied E and T’s choirs, although, as my orthopedic problems worsened, I had been doing more conducting than playing.

All of these things just flooded over me and I cried – a lot.

It was comforting to have B beside me. I also was not crying alone; there were many, many tears being shed.

Rev. Colleen, while herself struggling with the forced loss of her ministry, led a beautiful “service of celebration, healing, and transition.” Despite her own tears and grief, she was able through a series of rituals to lead everyone to reflect upon and let go of what we needed to and to find joy to share. After communion, she also offered to anoint anyone who wished.

I was very grateful that she made this offer. As a Catholic, I follow the wishes of my church and do not receive communion in Protestant churches, even though they would welcome me. I don’t do it as a blind following of rules, but as a sign of personal penance and sorrow at the division among Christians.

But, anointing is a powerful, ancient practice in which I could participate.

Almost everyone came forward to be anointed, either on the forehead or hands.

What I really wanted to do was to ask Rev. Colleen after she anointed me if I could anoint her, but I decided not to ask. We had never even been introduced and I didn’t want to throw another unknown element into what was already an emotional situation.

But I do send my blessing to Rev. Colleen:  May God, who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, hold you in love and strengthen you for service all the days of your life.

Amen.

 

 

The Summons

Church yesterday was unexpectedly difficult.

Our younger daughter Trinity was with me, which is a rare occurrence in the last year as she has been away from home for grad school and a summer internship. She pointed out that we were singing some of our favorite hymns, including “The Summons” which we were singing for entrance. (Text is at link; other sources list the author as John Bell.)

I love “The Summons.”  I love its message and its challenge. I love Kelvingrove, the lilting Scottish tune to which it is usually sung. I loved singing it. I loved conducting it during the years that I volunteered as accompanist with our youth and junior choirs.  (I usually accompanied anthems, but conducted hymns.) “The Summons” was an important part of an ordination and first Mass weekend for a member of our parish ten years ago last June.

And that is the problem.

That momentous celebration weekend was also our last with that parish, which had been my church home for over twenty years, where our daughters were baptized and made their first Eucharist, where I volunteered extensively with the music ministry and liturgy committee, where our daughters sang and cantored and rang handbells, where “The Summons” was an important call to mission, where I felt called to serve.

And it all fell apart.

The gospel reading yesterday spoke to what had happened. Someone in authority had fallen victim to an obsessive and slavish regard for the “laws of men” at the expense of love, justice, mercy, and compassion.  I believe that this person suffered from mental illness, but our bishop, to whom we had appealed, would not protect us.

After the ordination/first Mass weekend, we left the parish in solidarity with a staff member who had been unjustly terminated after decades of service.

Ten summers ago, Trinity was transitioning from 9th to 10th grade, which meant that she was in the middle of a two year sequence to prepare for the sacrament of confirmation.  In order to continue, we joined a parish near her school, so that she would already know some of the other students in her confirmation class. The circumstances surrounding our departure from our former parish had been soul-crushing for all of us, but she was in the most vulnerable position. She considered not being confirmed at all.  In the end, she did decide to request confirmation, which involved writing a personal letter to the very bishop who had refused us his protection.   The parish confirmation director told me the letter was honest and powerfully expressed Trinity’s feelings about what had happened.

I’m sure it did. I never saw it. I think that Trinity wanted to spare me any additional pain.

“The Summons” became a painful reminder of what we had all lost. Whenever it came up at Mass during the first six years, I would cry through it, unable to sing. Gradually, as some healing occurred, I found that I could sing it again, especially once Trinity had graduated from college and was singing with the choir at Holy Family.

I thought I was finally over attaching pain to hymn.

Until yesterday.

I was thinking  – it’s ten years. Trinity is beside me, she is strong spiritually, and she is singing this beautiful song of mission which we both love.

And I started crying. Not enough that I wasn’t able to still sing, albeit tremulously and missing a phrase here and there.

Some tears of loss and pain. Some tears of gratitude.

And some tears right now, while writing this…