I took the above picture as I walked out of a grocery store this morning. The house paused in early remodeling a couple years ago.
The sight of it reminds that the past is both fragile and strong. I heard Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu” on the ride to the store, and the sound of it evoked one of the best parts of my childhood, which was right around the time the song peaked in popularity. As the song played, my late mother felt omnipresent with me. I was stuck dumb with joy.
While the feeling of my mother is strong, the particular memories attached to “Xanadu” are fragile. The details slowly fade away, yet the reasons why I cherish those memories grow stronger. I remember how people dressed, the clog shoes, corduroy and calico fabrics, the semi-apostolic hairdos on men. The people I remember sporting those styles are no longer young, and seeing their aging is kind of like watching the penumbra of my own eclipse.
The strong feeling I had of my mother as I heard the song tells me that time need not bode disintegration. There is life after death, and those who are no longer living life as we know it are closer than we could possibly imagine.
Yesterday I took some pictures of local churches, including the one shown above, New Life Christian Ministries. I ordinarily avoid arty filters because they seem inauthentic for someone like me who is lacking the skill to create such an image without putting a photo through an algorithm. I am sharing the one above because it looks like a church service makes me feel. I feel the Spirit at such times, and the above image reflects a little of that warmth. I am grateful for such joy. It is not something I take for granted.
Below is the original photo:
For as long as I’ve lived with my husband, this is the weekend we visit his parents’ grave to place flowers and tend their plot. Since I met my husband long after his parents’ passing, I rely on his memories when we commemorate their lives. As we visit their grave, I honor a woman who did not fail to cook a hot breakfast for all eight of her children. I honor a man who served in World War II and rose from the darkness of the Kentucky coal mines to the blazing brightness of the (almost equally dangerous) Ohio steel mills.
Before we leave the cemetery, we linger on others who’ve passed who also migrated from the Hollers of Kentucky to the Rust Belt. My husband reminds me: Here are my neighbors who lived their whole lives without a hot water heater. Here is my sister-in-law whose death from breast cancer still haunts me. Here is my old neighbor who died in a bar fight.
As we drive away I notice some names that belong to the Scot-Irish branches of my family tree, Hanthorn and Craig. These people are almost undoubtedly connected in some way to my second great-grandfather Rollie Craig. His father, the only Craig who migrated to this area, died so young that Rollie was his sole heir to carry on the family name. Rollie did well in upholding the line. He had 72 great-grandchildren at the time of his passing.
Of course Memorial Day is a time to honor our service members who sacrificed their lives to uphold our freedoms. Our local cemeteries all full of American flags, placed both by families and civic groups. My family tree has many people who served, but we were lucky that all of my direct ancestors returned home alive. In a way, I owe my life to their fellow soldiers who took enemy fire instead of my ancestors.
The photo above shows a headstone belonging to a fallen Civil War soldier who is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Lima. Back then, some people had unusual names. I had a fourth great aunt named Experience. It is unknown to me whether Reason and Experience encountered each other in Antebellum Lima.
This weekend has definitely brought to mind a passage of scripture I encountered only recently. If I studied this passage in school or heard it in church while I was growing up, all memory of it was gone by the time I read it this year. In Ezekiel 37:1-14, the prophet visits a valley of dry bones with the Lord. God asks Ezekiel if He can bring those who are fallen there back to life. In verse 3, Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, thou knowest.”
This passage reminds me that faith is a blessing. To have enough faith to answer that question without hesitation or doubt would be to live a life transformed. The prophet Ezekiel lived through terrible times, including the fall of Jerusalem and exile in the Babylonian captivity. Throughout it all, his faith sustained him.
This passage from Ezekiel also reminds me that God has the power to right all wrongs and forgive all sins. He will transform all of our losses. Only his timing defies our human understanding.
I will close this post by quoting this passage of the Bible, from the King James Version which is in the public domain:
37 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.
4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:
6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.
8 And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
11 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.
12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
13 And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,
14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.
Like a growing number of Americans, I am a lapsed Catholic. It’s not that I ever lost my basic Christian faith. Rather, I hit an invisible wall of sorts around the time I turned 18. For whatever reason, I could no longer face the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s not that I had cataclysmic sins I needed to confess. I could no longer imagine that there was a priest who could truly listen to my sins. The more time that passed, the more it seemed impossible to do a true inventory of my conscience; the sacrament would not be valid on the grounds that I couldn’t possibly confess all the sins. And without reconciliation and penance, there could be no Communion.
Until today, I’d been stuck in place since the early 90’s. I’d attend Mass very occasionally and think of going to confession so I could take Communion the during the next Mass. From time to time, I’d consider joining a Protestant church to circumvent this issue entirely, but then I wouldn’t go to a different church for fear that I’d be betraying the Catholic church by doing so.
Today I finally attended services at our neighborhood Methodist church. My daughter bought a Bible with her birthday money last month, and she has been reading it almost daily. I decided it would be better for us to attend any Christian church at all rather than remain stuck over the sacraments in the Catholic church.
I had such a positive experience at the Methodist church. The communion service had a portion in which forgiveness of sins was offered to the repentant, and the sacrament itself was “open table” and offered to all baptized believers. This solved my decades-long problem, and it was a relief to feel the grace of that sacrament again.