once poor Lazarus

May the Angels lead you into Paradise,

may the Martyrs receive you at your coming, and take you to Jerusalem, the holy city.

May the choirs of the Angels receive you, and may you with the once poor Lazarus, have rest ever lasting. Amen.

May the Souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

 

So says the prayer on my mother’s prayer card, now almost seven months old, which I read today as if for the first time, only today noting the name of Lazarus. And as I reflect on my last post, on how disappointed I sound (I really wasn’t),on how great the AAR/SBL meeting sounds in comparison (see One Solid Comfort), and on my short fuse of late, I remember that grieving manifests itself in myriad ways.

Perhaps, while my questions from my previous post are valid, my vitriol for a few of the folks in attendance at that Chicago meeting were not, and perhaps, like Martha who was furious with Jesus that he was not there in her brother’s time of need–in her time of need–my own grief manifests itself in anger, judgment and pushing away unsuspecting others. I suspect there is some truth in this.

And so once-poor Lazarus beckons me to move beyond the grave.

But apparently, I am still on the hillside, mad, grieving, and wishing that it didn’t snow yesterday, because she wasn’t here to see it. Wishing it weren’t November, because we didn’t celebrate my dad’s birthday together. Wishing it weren’t a holiday, because I’ve never, ever, missed seeing her or talking to her, and hearing that she prayed for me at Mass, on Thanksgiving.

I shall try to redirect my anger, and surround myself with the flesh of hers that my children inherited, and be grateful for this year of work, listening, railing at the Friend, and treasuring my Sisters.

In Our House

A couple of weekends ago, I took a trip to my old stomping grounds to attend a conference. Held primarily in Loyola University Chicago’s Mundelein building (aka the Sky Building of the early 2000s), ““Still Guests in Our Own House? Women and the Church since Vatican II,” was a 2-day discussion between mostly female academic theologians and historians.

I have to admit, prior to the conference, the former theology student in me was excited to engage in an intellectual conversation with sisters in faith about the history and theology of women and the Roman Catholic church. Attending as a sometime pastoral theologian with my academic historian sister-in-law Mary Beth https://onesolidcomfort.wordpress.com/?s=solid+com would be some sweet brain candy and bonding time. But it was the part of me who had left my newlywed days, two pre-born children and a career in ministry (and its office in that same building) behind in Chicago that was most alive at the prospect of returning, revisiting, remembering and perhaps renewing my commitment to studying theology in the service of ministry to the People of God.

It didn’t go exactly as planned. In fact, there were many surprises. For one, Loyola Chicago’s buildings had grown like weeds since my departure in 2003. It was amazing to see the revitalization of the “Sky” building in particular. Where top floors had once been accessible only by stairs, I took the most joy in riding an elevator all the way to the top floor, where, if I remember correctly, ghosts of Sisters had been known to frequent. There was an air of glee in that space that was unlike anywhere I’ve been in years, and I swear I felt like a little girl talking to my favorite cheerful aunts while marveling at the views of the Lake. I’m sure my sister-in-law thought I was nuts as I greeted the dearly departed Sisters and praised what Loyola had done to their space, making it into classrooms that were illuminated by the morning sun on Lake Michigan.

Another surprise was the muted tones of the career theologians I met. Some of the women I had heard speak at conferences or met 20+years ago when I was a graduate student. That older cohort of sisters in faith was incredibly pleasant to talk with, but it was clear that the years had had dampening effects on their scholarship and the fire with which they conducted their studies in the previous century. (For a wonderfully written history of Catholicism and American feminism, see Mary Henold’s book Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement). M. Shawn Copeland’s keynote was a notable exception, calling again for a conversation about ordination and inclusion. Her talk was worth the trip.

The next day, too, two women from Fordham pointed to both the past and perhaps a brighter future where the pope and the church need to (and may already be) develop/ing a different path of conversion and community. I was most encouraged by the scholarship and questions posed by a young theology-minor-undergrad turned theology PhD student, who coincidentally would be on her first Charis retreat team the following weekend. I was also encouraged and excited by the last panel of the conference, whose final speaker broke through the tame conversations, those fearful (?) and disconnected from the Church outside the academy, with a mighty subcontinental axe that called participants and the wider Church to task on who the Church is and whom the Council actually benefitted.

Anyway. The biggest surprise of the weekend was how out of place I felt in my own “home” among these sisters of faith. Because in the end I’m not sure how many were there. I made the mistake of speaking as if I was an equal with several of the academics, and it was clear by one moderator’s response that either my comments made no sense to her, grounded as they were in the pastoral life of the church, or that the theology that was proposed by another speaker and in which I saw great promise for building bridges was not to the moderator’s liking. I was surprised at how negative, fearful and small I felt among these women, and with the exception of the older cohort and those teaching in seminaries (God bless them for their patience and willingness to stick with it), my two favorite historians in attendance,  and that young Fordham doctoral student, how small I felt their worlds were.

And so I am left with surprising questions: is the academy so restrictive as to have bound the Holy Spirit up in its small politics at the constricting expense of pastoral ministry, at the expense of the development and propagation of the reforms of the Council? Has the hierarchy been so hard on theologians that they have in turn developed their own form of bullying those who would question, come behind or seek their counsel? Has the theology of baptism been completely buried in the dirt and ash and lace and red shoes of previous papacies? Is there hope for the doctoral students who are grounded in study and in the life of the Church, that they may give grounding to pastoral ministers all the way “up” to the pope, and so continue the reforms? Can theology free itself to minister to ministers, to offer one small comfort to my Sister for whom I pray each day, the one who lost her own young Lazarus?

I also left with surprising, desperate hopes. I desperately hope that those women asking questions and developing Christian anthropologies will dialogue with the social and biological sciences in order to propose theologies of the human person in all his or her God-given dignity, regardless of sex, gender or orientation. I desperately hope that the older cohort live to see their students’ students celebrate a more inclusive, merciful, joyful church that worships with all as equals. I hope for Sisters of Lazarus who work and wait and listen and work some more, and demand the Lord’s presence in all their work and rest in His presence when He speaks to them, or rather, when the Spirit speaks to them.

And I desperately hope that the moderators who waved me off as insignificant and perhaps too chatty, the speaker who named stay-at-home mothers as women who have nothing of my their own, or the theologians who have disconnected their study from the lived faith of their community, find a special, welcoming place in the communion line.

On Friendship

I call you friends…

In the days since leaving…home, college, home state, the single life, the (paid) work force, and the status as daughter, a common thread that appears in the moments of wear, longing and grief is the desire for my friends, and for my Friend.

My dear Sisters of Lazarus, and Lazarus himself, counted themselves among the friends of the Friend. Mary sat at the feet of one whom she loved; Martha set the feast for the one whose company she knew all enjoyed. Their Friend surely was a welcome presence in their home. And when Lazarus died, both Sisters were grief- stricken not only at the loss of their brother, but indeed, at the deliberate absence of their Friend in the hour of family need. He wasn’t where the Sisters needed him to be. And Martha confronted Jesus, demanded an accounting of his absence in that hour, Jesus was moved and shed tears for his friend and for the Sister’s loss. Perhaps a tear was shed even for regret that his miracle required he not be in Bethany, even when he knew the Sisters longed for his presence.

In my own hours of grief, of leaving people, places, or being left by them in recent days, I look for and long for and shout at the Friend for not being where I expect him and “need” him to be. But in the Martha flurry of activity of managing a home, raising a family, and attending to my mother’s affairs before and after her death, I am mindful that if I sit like Mary, I hear…

—that a particular kind of friend has indeed been present. In the hour of my mother’s wake, my two closest girlfriends, a woman who very recently had experienced parental loss, and those who were no strangers to the heaven-bound, were present. The friends of not just the heart, but of the Faith, those women baptized and confirmed and whose children were also blessed by their faith, were present and they symbolically, sacramentally stood in for this Friend we share.

—that those friends have also surfaced in my conversations with others of faith, during touchstones moments after church, in facebook messages and posts with friends of faith, and in calls to check in. These, too have been moments of sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening and being loved.

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This week the reaction of the Sisters of Lazarus to their brother’s death, and to Jesus’ late arrival came alive. The need that the Sisters felt had been denied at the greatest possible expense was played out in front of my eyes. I watched as lines of mourners greeted the parents of a young man who died too soon. By all accounts a gifted, brilliant, athletic, talented, artistic, loving, and healing presence, this young man drew others to him like moths to a flame. His funeral was packed with those whom he touched from birth through elementary school to high school to college and beyond. Speaker after speaker told stories of his attractiveness, his talent, his love, his magnetism, his blessedness. The young man’s parents were credited with loving him into existence, fanning the flames of his positive nature, building his character and blessing him, blessing him, blessing him. And he blessed others..black, white, Christian, Jew, young, old, male, female…and drew them all to him. And then he died. And his mother and father, rocks in the community, took all in until the last moment of the funeral…and then as the lid was closed they broke as Martha broke, cried out as the Sisters cried out..and my own heart joined the mother’s wail to God at the wrongness, at the darkness, at what surely must be the absence of the Friend.
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What miracle comes next? What does a Sister of Lazarus do in these moments to come? What Friend to look for, how to BE friend to one in such grief that will not be alleviated by rolling away a stone? How to be the friend, and the Sister, of one who was raised to another Sister whose child is in the depths of the tomb?

I think another step in this exercise of active contemplation may be to develop this Sisterhood of Lazarus (shall we be SoL? 🙂 ). Not not just try to find Mary moments in Martha business, or to love as one or another—but to specifically look for how to be friend to the Lord; to allow the Friend work through me even as I seek His friendship through others. To be transparent in this exercise, especially with sister mourners, sisters in the faith, sisters who labor to see the Spirit bear fruit in their lives and the lives of their children. To especially model this friendship, baptized and confirmed as it is in sacraments of water, oil, bread, wine, to my own daughters, Sisters themselves, so that it may be said of them as it was said of the dearly departed—well done, good and faithful one.

For those who work and love like Martha…and who rest and love like Mary

Luke 10:38
a As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
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* She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
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Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
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The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
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* There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

After years of checklists and tasks, homework and papers, press releases and ads, caring for parents and spouse and children and parents again

And taking retreat days, coordinating retreat weekends, serving as a spiritual director and longing always for more quiet, more time, and more conversation with Jesus

It’s time to reflect and celebrate the moments of work that lead to the moments of resting at the feet of the Lord, moments of being Mary and choosing the better part, moments of being Martha knowing that my dearest Friend is dining on the fruits of my labors, and recognizing the presence of the Spirit in holy interactions.

This little site will be my attempt to find the Mary moments in the work of Martha, and acknowledge the importance of Martha’s tasking while resting at the feet of my dearest Friend.