Sunday, August 2, 2015

Where all the saints repose

Near the end of June, my newest godson received ‘the call that [he’d] been dreading for years,’ that his mother was dying—not sometime, but soon, perhaps even at that very hour—and that he’d better come flying home to Detroit as soon as he could get a seat on an airplane.

I can imagine how he must’ve felt. My mother was a rugged survivor of numerous sicknesses from the time right after I was born, when to save her life the doctors removed three-quarters of her badly ulcerated stomach. She was, as I am, very high strung. As a child I was always afraid she would die.

Over the course of my childhood years, I prayed that God would let her live, especially when her health problems frightened me. From the way Jason describes his mother and his family’s and his own dependence on her, she and my mom must have been very similar, remarkable women, our strength.

Had my mother passed away before I became an adult, I think it would’ve crushed me too, so fixated was I upon her presence and the refuge she provided. I outgrew that dependence when I moved out on my own and got married. I now had a wife and kids, and I was beginning to understand providence.

I don’t think anything opens wide a door to knowing the Father better than becoming a father yourself. Also, nothing teaches you—ever so gently!—that moms and dads are not God, so that you love and appreciate them more, than being married and, with your spouse, raising that little family.

We visited my mother for the last time, driving cross country in a compact car with an already tall twelve-year old son and his two little brothers, a toddler and an infant, from Portland to Chicago. She had suffered a debilitating stroke six or seven years earlier. She saw her grandsons, hugged us close, and then let us go, waving goodbye from her wheelchair at the nursing home entrance as we drove away. [*]

We never saw her again. In a few months, I received the call I knew would come, but I was no longer afraid, nor even sad. ‘The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won, the song of triumph has begun, alleluia!’ Remembering her trust I prayed, ‘The God who loves me is coming.’

Her departure came at an impossible time for our little family on the West Coast. Everyone else still lived in the home area of Chicago and could attend her funeral, not I. Darkness lurks in the bloodlines of unforgiveness and, instead of pulling everyone together to console one another, by intrigue stripped me of my membership in the family. What was the real reason I was banished? My emigration? My marriage to someone outside our tribe and religion? My closeness to our mother? who told me, ‘You have visited me while I was alive. If you cannot come to my funeral, don’t worry. I won’t be there.’ Or was it my faith?

Back to my godson and his recent loss, he is a new Christian, baptized last Easter, coming over from Buddhism without abandoning it. Like many of his generation who are artsy and educated and progressive, he has never married. He can’t be faulted, then, for the severity of his grief. A mother’s death is worthy of grief.

He hasn’t been taught, hasn’t been prepared by a life that he hasn’t yet begun to live. Though I am his godfather, we belong to different parishes at opposite ends of town. Mutual friends of ours at his parish didn’t notify me, perhaps thinking someone else did. He didn’t tell me either. I found out quite by accident.

It was probably all for the best, because my condolences would possibly have seemed as stoic and unintelligible to him in his sorrow as they would sound to a child. God never pushes us beyond where we are at the moment, never forces illumination on us, nor does He let His servants push either. Wisdom and mercy are His.

Everyone’s path is different, yet all who seek to follow Him who says, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ find that their paths lead them to the same place—the Cross. Even those who do not follow Him arrive at the same destination, but how different it looks! Pain, sorrow, vile injustice, betrayal, rejection, death.

Yet those who answer Him, ‘I believe,’ when He asks, ‘Do you believe this?’ find not pain but peace, not sorrow but joy, not injustice but mercy, not betrayal but faithfulness, not rejection but reconciliation, not death but life. This is what we are born for, what we inherit, endless mercy, life, eternal happiness.

With the spirits of the righteous made perfect Give rest to the soul of Your servant, O Savior; and keep it safe in that life of blessedness that is lived with You, O Friend of Man. In the place of Your rest, O Lord, where all Your Saints repose, give rest also to the soul of Your servant, For You alone are immortal. You are our God Who went down to Hades to loose the pains of the dead that were there; give rest also to the soul of Your servant, O Savior.

O Virgin, alone pure and immaculate that in maiden-motherhood brought forth God, intercede for the salvation of the soul of your servant.

God grant to you, beloved brother and co-sufferer, comfort in your grief beyond what I can give, and healing to your heart, for your mother is now assuredly at peace, ‘where all the saints repose.’

Aiónia í mními aftís. Eternal be her memory.

1 comment:

Sasha said...