Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Memoriam

He was my priest. Fred Hall was fresh out of seminary in 1958 when I came to St. Richard of Chichester on The Westway in Toronto. It was time for my confirmation and honest to God, the man taught us almost everything he learned in Seminary. It was among the toughest courses I had ever taken. Still, I loved theology then as I do now. And so I buckled down and did as I was told to do. Not that he would remember that. I'm sure he tapped his foot more than once; all of us teenagers, giggly, respectful but always snickering about something or another. He was faithful, he was always there. He loved us. And now he's gone.
So, of course, I had to come to his funeral. I drove yesterday from Lynn, MA to Brampton, Ontario and remembered so many things along the way. Funny how that goes...I found myself remembering the first moments I could remember in life...I was a little boy at my grandmother's apron strings, near the old cast iron stove in our kitchen in Somerville, Massachusetts, the most densely populated city per square mile in America at the time. It was an ideal place to live for a child then. We were on a very busy bus route that gave us access to the entire Boston Subway system from Lechmere Station. At night you could hear the trolley tacks screech from "Mass Ave" and the bells from old St. John's chimed the Westminster time away all through the night. But back to those apron strings...she was always at that stove, cooking baking, and when she wasn't doing that she was knitting, reading the paper, or chatting with the neighbors over a pipin' hot cup of tea. What I remember was the warmth of that stove, the warmth of her love, and the magnificent aromatics of her freshly baked blueberry muffins. I don't know why, but I had an appetite for God even then, although it may have been more of a subconscious appetite.
The first conscious memory of God I have, was of a bumble bee who circled around me while I was playing in the dirt in the shade of a tree on a pleasant summer's day with the smell of the sea nearby. I was alarmed by the bee and ran into the house to seek assurance from my grandmother. She was there, again by the stove, and I leaned against her and rolled up her apron string in my left hand and sucked my thumb with the right hand. And thus I knew something about God. Not much, just that there was God. Much later I learned that God and man walked together in the Garden in the cool of the day and kept each other company. That makes perfect sense, since today I am enjoying God's companionship as I do most days of my life. This I remembered as I drove along the New York State Thruway.
I remembered lots and lots of other things about my grandmother, my mother, my father, my step father and a hundred others who saw me through my formative years. The only God talk I got from my parents was of the sort that befitted the epithet. Still they loved me and I loved them.
My grandmother though, now there was a godly woman. A spitfire, tiny, wily, acerbic, and infectious with the kind of laughter that came from her toenails kind of woman. She was a storyteller from Maine, more of a spinner of yarns, a cracker barrel sort of Mainer, born of the sea, salted by the fresh and blustery breezes from the Down East Coast. She knew more of God than a church full of priests. God was in the story for her. Sure there were the stories of the sacred scriptures, and she read those stories with a twinkle of life that quickened the words onthe page and gave them vivid dramatics. She was an actress of that Betty Davis sort, wild, impetuous, penetrating and alive with passion. And so the stories of the Biblical narrative came to life for me, as did the stories of our family, a Dickensian story crammed with weal and woe that drew me in inexorably as did those magnificent sacred tales. It was more in the way she told the story than the stories themselves and somehow the story of the family and the bible intertwined much as a quilt is crocheted....stand by strand, needle bobbing about energetically, color upon color, and yet emerging with the most exquisite kaleidoscopic patterns you can possibly imagine.
So I drove on and on. I remembered Ma, as we called her, and I remembered Fred Hall, whose funeral I intend to witness this day. He too loved the sea. Born in Newfoundland, how could he not? In our last conversation, we spoke of the gulls, the boats bobbing in the "harbour" (I'm in Ontario for the day), the sound of the surf crashing on the everlasting rocks and the tides and the coming and going of time. Ah yes, the mark of the eternal seas, how often have my eyes and his gazed into those seas and seen something of the eternal, and wondered about God, or just sat there with God. How often have we dashed into the waves, chilled to the bone by the North Atlantic, laughing aloud lest we turn blue lobster like in colour (Ontario again). And thus there is God for us.
Not that God is "up there" for either of us. God is more "in here" than "out there" for us. In the heart I mean, in the now to be more precise. God in the I AM of being alive. Didn't Moses figure that out at the burning bush at the outset of this "story"? Moses begged to know God's name, and God made him wait and made him promise to keep the whole thing a secret, that is, a secret about his name. Then he let him in on it; I AM that's his name...God's name. So there you are, God is the eternal now of being. Simple, huh?
Makes sense to me. And so as I remember him and his Confirmation Class, his patience with me as I taught his son Mark to go on a Lion Hunt as a Sunday School teacher who insisted on using a suspect American curriculum from Seabury, his many sermons, his feeding me at the altar and at his home, our long, conversations about Plato and Socrates as well as of Jesus, I remembered him.
I drove the many miles between King's Beach in Lynn to Brampton and I gazed into the now of life and I treasured him, my grandmother, and all the others of family and friends who have been there along the way in that now of all our days and all the stories that can be told of the moments when now was. Now is another sacred day, a time to go to Christ Church in Brampton and feast at Christ's Table and receive just a tiny foretaste of the eternal NOW that is in store for us which Fred Hall is now feasting on with the Communion of Saints.
The seas then come and go as the tides sweep in and wash back to the eyes that see the stories that have been told through the years. Ma comes to life as does Fred, and they die away again in Peace. What they saw, I see, and what I see so shall you.
So we walk together in the cool of the day this God of mine, this I AM of Being. A shabby hotel in Brampton Ontario and a shabby back door to a typical Ontario mall stares at me in the now of this moment, but God is no less here than God is anywhere else.
But why the bumble bee, I wondered as I drove along? Why did God connect with me in the bee? Then it came to me in a moment of sheer silence: "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is in the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ". (I Corinthians 15: 56,57. Aha! The bumble bee now reminds me of the sting in life. Death stings badly, as does suffering, as does sin. I am afraid of the sting of that bee...so I run to my grandmother, and grab her apron string and suck my thumb, and remember God. She who is the I AM for my life, the grand Storyteller, the Author, the Finisher of the I AM of my life.

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