Wednesday, July 30, 2008
As the faithful reader will remember, Walhydra and her brother and sister decided early last year that it was no longer safe for Senior Witch to live alone.
Sister and her hubby and six kids were absolute angels for fifteen months, taking Senior Witch into their home and lives, keeping her physically and socially active and healthy—and bearing with her escalating Alzheimer's foibles, which alternated between amusing and painfully disruptive.
[Youngest grand-daughter once complained in tears, "Why can't Grandma learn how to do this for herself?" Her Mom's answer—which must have sounded both confusing and a bit spooky—was, "Grandma is un-learning things now."]
The sad irony was that, not being able to perceive her own declining capacity, Senior Witch believed she could still live independently. That meant she became increasingly more resistant to "living under her daughter's roof." Loving care seemed to morph into the perennial trial of crones across the globe.
By April of this year, Walhydra agreed with her sister that it was time to find an assisted living facility (ALF) for Mom near her own home in Jacksonville.
Of course, though she was more or less “in recovery” from chronic depression, by this time Walhydra was up to her eyebrows in anxiety about managing Mom’s business.
For reasons she has not yet been able to discern—perhaps she read too much Charles Dickens as a child—Walhydra has always had a near phobia about dealing with the legal and financial world. As if, somehow, any misstep with an application or transaction might bring on pauperdom, the workhouse or worse.
That being case, imagine Walhydra, already struggling to sell Mom’s house from 300 miles away and fighting automated phone menus to get to a human being who might sort out health policies, bank accounts, retirement annuities….
Imagine her doing all of this and then also having to find a reliable, affordable ALF, one that might actually suit Senior Witch, who has always said she “never wants to end up in a ‘home’.”
And yet, though it took time to get up the gumption to act, once Walhydra started calling her local contacts, the network (both divine and human) worked as it always does for those who leap—or stumble—out on faith.
She called a Quaker friend, who referred her to an enthusiastic Alzheimer’s day care social worker, who referred her to a care cost planning paralegal, who said, “Why don’t you call so-and-so at this wonderful, non-profit ALF I know about?”
The place was perfect! And a spacious private room opened up a month later!
This meant that, rather than waiting till after her sister’s vacation in early July, Walhydra was able to get Senior Witch happily settled in her new home by the beginning of June.
Walhydra stayed with Senior Witch all of the first full day. What she kept hearing from her Mom was, “Oh, I’m not too good at socializing. Oh, I’m a very private person. Oh, I’m not sure about eating all my meals in a cafeteria.”
“This,” Walhydra thought to herself, “from a woman who was a preacher’s wife for thirty-some years. Hmm…. I’ll just wait and see.”
The next night, with Walhydra and Hubby Jim visiting, Senior Witch chattered away happily about all the people she’d met and how much she likes the staff.
“Um-hmm,” Walhydra chuckled to herself. "I thought as much."
Almost two months later, Senior Witch is cheery and at home in her new-found "independence." She's also charming all the staff and other residents.
Now that Senior Witch is all settled, part of Walhydra’s "Mom duty” is to get her to the nearest Lutheran church every few Sundays.
Senior Witch is not dogmatically invested in Lutheran theology. Even so, she feels more comfortable with the richness of the Lutheran liturgy and hymns and the Lutheran style of preaching. She is, after all, a preacher's kid as well as a former preacher’s wife.
A key difference between Senior Witch and Walhydra is that Mom evolved through orthodox Christianity and “came out the other side,” while Walhydra needed to walk away from it in order to meet her Mom on that side decades later.
To understand this odd contrast, the gentle reader needs to know that Lutheran worship is wholly liturgical.
This means that every moment of the service involves either the pastor or the congregation or both in reading or singing some prescribed text. Prayers, blessings, passages from the Old Testament, Gospels and Epistles, hymns, creeds, a sermon from the pastor—and the sharing of the Lord's Supper, the Communion, the Eucharist, the bread and wine.
As a child, Walhydra found such a service reassuring in its regularity. Her father preached, Mom played the organ, the old ladies sang the hymns….
…and Walhydra learned the stories about Jesus.
Those stories—including the difficult, puzzling, contradictory ones—snuck into her heart before she had any knowledge of theology or doctrine. Better still, they conjured for her a real person, one more difficult, puzzling and contradictory, yet ultimately more whole, than any theology or doctrine could contain.
However, by the time she was a teenager, Walhydra was in trouble. She’d learned what Lutherans were supposed to believe and done her best to believe it. Then she sat through service every Sunday, wondering whether she actually believed it enough to go up to Communion.
She didn't doubt the faith as she'd learned it. Yet she doubted—in what she now knows is the classic "dark Lutheran" way—whether she truly knew it or felt it within. It all seemed to make sense, so long as she accepted the basic premises, but it didn't live in her as flesh and blood.
At least, not in the way Jesus did.
One thing that never quite worked for her—though it took getting all the way to seminary to recognize this—was the notion that salvation depends upon Jesus having "paid the price" for the whole human race.
Didn't YHWH say to Hosea, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Hos. 6:6a)? Didn't Jesus himself quote those words to the Pharisees (Matt. 9:13b)?
The more she learned from the caring saints and sinners in her life, the more Walhydra came to believe that the Bible was a cycle of stories in which YHWH interrupted the priests and worshippers over and over again to say, "No. That's not what I meant. I'm not like that."
So Walhydra walked away from liturgy and hymns and creeds for a decade or so. She sampled the whole 1970s smorgasbord of Jung, I Ching, Tarot, astrology, witchcraft, meditation, Buddhism...and, um, pot and sex.
When she eventually wandered back into Christian worship services with not-yet-hubby Jim, she maintained a steadfast silence through all the words-in-unison stuff, her inner translator struggling to keep up.
Every week, as the rest of the congregation approached the altar for Communion, Walhydra would hang back, wondering. And then she'd get the giggles as she heard the Master's voice whispering, "Oh, get on up here, you silly witch!"
Eventually, Walhydra and by-then-hubby Jim found their way into the blessèd waiting silence of Quaker worship.
And, every Christmas Eve, they joined Senior Witch for candlelight service at, of all places, the Lutheran church where Walhydra got into trouble in the first place.
So, here she is now, twenty years later, taking her Mom to a little Lutheran congregation near the ALF. Alternating this with taking her to Quaker Meeting—where, of course, Senior Witch has charmed and been charmed by all the members.
This church’s pastor has the genuine preacher’s gifts: humor, humility and grace. He does what Frederick Buechner [see Note] demonstrates so well, drawing his listeners into his own story of doubt and of little glimpses of faith.
How in the world, he asks them, do we make any sense out of these millenia-old Bible lessons we’ve just read out loud? How do we stumble through them toward any real, usable connection with our 21st century lives?
Walhydra could almost be content to sit through the service for such sermons. Except for that little matter of the wholly scripted liturgy.
“Do I ever get a chance to just stop and think about this for a few minutes?” she asks. “Even when the rubrics say ‘Pause for a moment of reflection,’ it’s a very skinny moment!”
Ironically, after one recent service, Senior Witch sighed with obvious satisfaction.
“It’s so good,” she said, “to be back in a Lutheran service. Your sister’s church [a hymn-singing evangelical mega-church] was okay in its own way. But I missed the Lutheran liturgy. It directs and focuses your thoughts so well.”
“Yes, it does do that,” Walhydra agreed silently.
Despite this challenge—or perhaps because of it—Walhydra had a welcome little glimpse of faith during the most recent service she attended with her Mom.
Looking forward to the pastor’s sermon, she felt a little wary when she realized that the congregation’s brand new assistant pastor, fresh out of seminary, would be preaching his first “official” sermon.
Worse, the Gospel for the day was that troubling parable comparing the Kingdom to a landowner who’s enemy sows weeds in his wheat field (Matt. 13:24-30).
It’s the lesson in which Matthew, to suit his own post-destruction of Jerusalem agenda, has the disciples wheedle an allegorical explanation out of Jesus, in which the weeds become “the progeny of the evil one,” eventually to be cast “into the fiery furnace” where they will “weep and grind their teeth” (Matt. 13:36-43).
“Oh, bother!” Walhydra thought. “We’re in for it now!”
Sure enough, the novice preacher wasn’t experienced enough yet to step very far away from the textbook, so his words clove to doctrinal formulae and left little breathing space for amateur human beings—which all of us are.
“At least he’s giving us the Lutheran ‘saved by grace’ version, not the Southern Baptist ‘repent or else’ version.”
Walhydra sighed through the offertory and the start of the Communion liturgy. Then her eyes drifted upward…
…to notice again that this church is blessed with a remarkable, life-size statue of what she recognizes as the real Jesus.
High above the altar. Robed and at peace, one knee bent as if stepping down. Raised arms spanning an arc which embraces the whole chamber.
Walhydra could feel that embrace, reaching around and through her to the whole world.
“It doesn’t matter,” that embrace said. “Let each person trust the little piece of grace she is ready to trust. Let each follow whatever worship form buys her enough time to make some sort of peace with me.
“It doesn’t matter. You are all already in the Kingdom.
“Just get on up here, you silly witch.”
And so it is.
Note from the amanuensis: There is a companion piece to this one, quoting from Buechner, on The Empty Path.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Now, thanks to Librarians' Internet Index: New This Week, she has found two interesting sites with advice about gardening to help the recovery of the native bee population: Gardening for Native Bees in North America and Creating a Pollinator Garden: Preserving a Precious Partnership.
All she can say is
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Well, thanks to QuakerQuaker, she was recently directed to Haven Kimmel's Blog and found this delightful post: "Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog: Are The Quakers Amish?"
Here's her favorite part:
Q: Are the Quakers the same as the Amish?Teehee....
A: Although the Amish were founded by a Dutch Anabaptist during the Protestant Reformation, Jakob Ammann, and thus were considered an order of the Swiss Mennonites; and although they speak German (or Pennsylvania Dutch); and although they keep themselves entirely separate from the ‘world,’ or the apostate; have no electricity or phones, and drive horse-drawn buggies on the open road, and the Quakers were founded by George Fox and Margaret Fell during the English Reformation, and spoke English; and although Quakers take it as a directive to change the world through acts of philanthropy and social justice, such as The American Friends Service Committee (which won the Nobel Peace Prize); and although we drive cars and I am typing this on a laptop plugged into a surge protector in an electrical outlet, YES, we are the same as the Amish. We are, essentially, the Amish.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
She and Crippled Wolf are twins of a sort, although she didn't even know about him until about four years ago.
Crippled Wolf says he came into being around the same time Walhydra did, when the amanuensis had polio at age four. He remained silent, though, until there was a dream.
In the dream, Crippled Wolf is a man just entering his sagehood."Well," Walhydra exclaimed somewhat nervously upon waking. "That was a pretty story."
To his kitchen door comes an athletic youth of twenty or so, fleeing from werewolf hunters. Although Crippled Wolf's friends, sitting inside at the table, try to warn him away from the youth, he knows immediately that this young man is to become one of his lovers—even though they will probably never make physical love.
The unnamed youth holds Crippled Wolf's eyes calmly, despite the danger of his flight. They need no words for Crippled Wolf to understand everything.
Before him stands a werewolf, yet almost nothing of human lore about such creatures is true. These are, in fact, wolves who have been cursed—or so it seems to them—into living as human beings, save for the night of the full moon. Only then can they return to their true forms. Only then can they remember all that they know.
"Make me one of you," Crippled Wolf whispers.
"You are one of us. Come with me."
As they flee, the full moon rises.
"What do you fear about it?" Crippled Wolf asked.
"Um.... Do we really have to go there now?"
"Well, then. I need to let it season for a while."
"As long as necessary. Blessèd Be."
Crippled Wolf withdrew into silence, though not out of memory.
Earlier this week, without conscious decision, Walhydra summoned him back.
She was leaving her library, just after lunch, on her way to another where she was subbing as Person in Charge for the afternoon.
As she crossed the street, she spied a tall, lanky young construction worker heading to lunch in the same direction she would be going. It was the sweaty sheen of his spikey hair and face which first caught her eye.
Damp teeshirt, scruffy blue jeans and work boots, his white construction helmet in one hand. A face which recalled Depression Era photos of resolute young men intent on survival.
Walhydra quickened her pace so that she could watch his butt shift as he walked. One of the best features of men—straight or gay—who are comfortable with their manhood.
It wasn't long, merely moments, before Walhydra began laughing at herself over the contrast between them.
Here she was, a gay male librarian of nearly 58 years. Short hair, wiry bronze-framed bifocals, grizzled goatee. Unbuttoned casual dress shirt, pleated-front khaki slacks and an upscale khaki "outdoors" vest (made in China), its numerous pockets full of electronic geegaws.
On her way to play manager-for-a-day in a tiny, African-American neighborhood branch library.
Not too conscious of her manhood at the moment, yet wearing it as she'd become accustomed to doing.
Having been trained admirably "behind the wall" during her prison counselor years, she drew up casually beside the young man, as if by chance while on her way somewhere else. Her cruising was strictly an "intellectual hornies" thing, not to be signaled in any way, out of respect for the other man's privacy.
In that carefully neutral way she'd learned on the prison yard, she glanced at the worker, said "Hey," and gave the briefest of head nods.
The young man glanced back with an open face, said "Hey, man" back, and went on his way into the parking garage, while Walhydra continued down the block.
"Ah, that was nice," said Crippled Wolf.
"What...? Oh, you're back."
"Yes." Crippled Wolf settled into a loose-limbed walk. "That was nice. I'd almost forgotten how it feels."
"A simple man-to-man acknowledgement. No challenge, no posturing. Just brief eye contact, a nod, 'Hey, man,' and off to your separate chores. Nice."
"I don't get it," Walhydra wondered.
"Yes you do. He recognized me as a man—despite our obviously different worlds and roles. Saw I did the same for him. Tipped his hat, so to speak.
"No gender role challenges. Nothing to prove. Just 'Hey, man.' Nice."
They walked on to the car together, feeling content.
All afternoon, while Walhydra observed and remembered, Crippled Wolf enjoyed the slow, warm, easy pace of chatting and teasing with confident Black adults in their own element.
It was like being back in a prison dorm office—complete with broken air conditioning—hanging out with the male and female security officers. People who knew their authority was not about their uniforms or titles, but about how they carried themselves, how clearly and consistently they enforced the boundaries, and how uncompromising they were in respecting the inmates and demanding the same in return.
Crippled Wolf worked and joked with a woman about his age. ("I'm a great-gran, as of last week," she laughed, showing him the baby pictures on her cell phone.) He watched with admiration as she shepherded customers of every generation with equal attentiveness.
Children: "Little Man, I didn't even see you over the desk when you said 'Excuse me.' You're so polite."
Teens: "Look me in the eye when I'm talking to you. Don't you look away like you're angry. I told you to share the computer with him."
Peers: "Girl, you way too cool. She and I"—turning to Crippled Wolf with a laugh—"been harassing each other for years."
Elders: "Yes, ma'am, Mrs. Hendricks. Now you have a blessed day."
Meanwhile, a security office with a linebacker's build and deep, patient voice alternated between keeping the boys in line ("Gentlemen, stop that language or leave.") and working the print release station to make certain Mrs. Hendricks' multi-page Microsoft Word document came out right.
Crippled Wolf sat and beamed, worked remotely on his management reports, or did chores like calling in computer problems. "I'm just here in case someone in the chain-of-command has to take the blame," he grinned, readily deferring authority of place to these people.
A sweet afternoon with real colleagues.
And so it is.
Note: Friday, October 29, 2004, one morning after a total lunar eclipse.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
The war had turned inward until it resembled
suicide. The only soothing thing was water.
I passed the sentries, followed the surf out of sight.
I would sink into the elements, become simple.
Surf sounds like erasure, over and over.
I lay down and let go, the way you trust an animal.
When I opened my eyes, all down the strand
small crabs, the bright yellow of a crayon,
had come out onto the sand. Their numbers, scattered,
resembled the galactic spill and volume of the stars.
I, who had lain down alone, emptied,
waked at the center of ten thousand prayers.
Who would refuse such attention. I let it sweeten me
back into the universe. I was alive, in the midst
of great loving, which is all I've ever wanted.
The soldiers of both sides probably wanted just this.