Holy remembrance

The rain finally stopped and dad and I sat on the deck. The sky had cleared to a deep blue , the birds trilled and a warm breeze surrounded us, tinkling the wind chimes.

A box of photos sat at my feet. Dozens of dusty black-and-white and color snapshots, corners and edges aged and yellowed with time.

My brother had carted the box out of the garage. We will display some of them at dad’s party when we celebrate his 90th birthday on May 6th. His birthday is really Cinco de Mayo — true Mexican-American that he is — but with so many family flying in, we are honoring him on May 6th.

As I browsed through the photographs, a surge of nostalgia swelled up in my heart. There we all were — family — in our youth. Mom and dad, looking like movie stars, dressed in sequined gown and tux ready to go to a party at KYW-TV where dad once worked.

And me and my siblings, at backyard barbecues, sitting at the long wooden picnic table, chomping into a burger and holding up a brew or a soda, hamming it up for the camera. My nieces and nephews, still toddlers, playing tag on the green grass, or rolling around in it, their lives still ahead of them.

I began to show the photos to dad. He has limited speech capacity since the stroke, but he squinted and smiled and kept saying “wow” and “joven” which means young. Yes. We were young.

As I looked at the photos in the box, each one evoked a memory. Of our family. Our lives. Each had captured a moment in time. I came to see this remembrance as holy — and at the heart of all spiritual practice.

This week, as I write this, we are in the midst of many sacred memories. For Christians, it is Holy Week and in the Jewish faith, Passover.

Jesus said he yearned to share the Passover with his disciples. His desire was to create eternal memories of the heart, that he might live on in us when he shared bread and wine and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

For those celebrating the Passover, a seder meal commemorates the freedom of the Isaraelites from slavery and into a promised land. In fact, the Jewish people were commanded to remember.

Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Remember that the Lord took you out of the bondage of slavery. “Remember” is a biblical mandate and the Passover story that initiated a commitment to memory.

This time of year is one for remembering the Divine’s intervention into a troubled world, freedom from enslavement, triumph of life over death.

Why is it important to remember? Many reasons. Perhaps most important, memories give us identity, show us who we are as individuals and within the larger community. They ensure that life events will not be lost, but learned from, treasured and carried forward. They bind us together. In love. In life. In death.

So as I sit with dad, pouring over photographs, I am on a journey of remembering. Trips to Nashville and the hills of Red Boiling Springs, TN; birthdays and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary; my grandmother’s funeral, Christmases, trips to Ireland and vacations in Florida.

Dad and I smile at the people we once were — slimmer, sillier, unwise, hopeful, blissful in our ignorance of what was to come. And I marvel at the people we have become — strong, stretched, suffering with stroke or illness, resilient, prayerful, loving.

I see myself in some of these photos and I’d like to go back to that young woman who was me. Tell her about life. That parts of it will be happy, some of it will be painful, but to hold on to the moment. To savor it, no matter how it may feel, because it will never come again. This is what I would tell her.

Dad tires of looking through the photos. I put them away and we go back inside the house. He is moving slower these days with his walker. But on May 5th we will celebrate the memories of 90 years of a life well lived and well loved. We will look at the photos and “ooh” and “aah” and call to mind the stories they evoke.

And we will be blessed in those sacred memories.

We will be glad and rejoice in the now.

 

 

Watch and pray

Last year when dad ended up in the emergency room, I watched.

I remember him on that hospital bed, writhing in pain, soaked and feverish. I looked at the wall clock as it ticked away the hours — 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. as we waited for a room to become available. I sat by his side, trying to comfort him, as his fever spiked to 103 or more.

praying-1bAnd I prayed. For him to be out of pain. For peace, for him and for myself. Thankfully, dad did recover.

I share this story because I believe many of us in our lives have watched and prayed with and for a loved one. Perhaps a family member who was ill or struggling through a personal problem. Watched and prayed for a child to be born. Or watched and prayed with a parent or child in the dying process. And how many times lately have we watched and prayed as wanton terrorism has taken lives?

I’ve been reflecting on those two words — watch and pray — as we end Holy Week in the Christian tradition and head into Easter.  Jesus asked his disciples to do this with him in the garden before his death. They weren’t very good at it because they fell asleep. I suppose a heavy Passover meal and plenty of wine will do that.

But perhaps the disciples didn’t get it. Maybe we don’t either. And does watching and praying make any real difference in the fabric of our ordinary days?

I believe it does and that we are called to do both. But they can be challenging. Why? Because watching and praying require a certain attentiveness to the present.

Watching is an awareness that is not so much of the eyes but of the heart. It is an interior waiting and listening to the Spirit where we are deeply paying attention. We are the silent observer to a deep mystery, an experience that confounds us that we may not completely understand.

And in that watching, if we allow ourselves, we are changed. We become more human, more compassionate, more loving. When we move in this direction, we open to prayer.

Jesus-in-GethsemaneWhat is prayer? I find labels dangerous, and semantics are often misconstrued, but for me prayer is simply this: A communion with the Divine — however you find it, wherever you find it. You may discover the Divine presence in nature, in a chapel, in the woods, in rote words, with beads, or in a monastery. It’s anything that takes you to the interior space where you are fully present to the God of your knowing.

One of my favorite writers Anne Lamott says there are only two prayers she uses: “Help me, help me, help me.” And “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I love these prayers because they cut through all the theological bullshit that God probably dislikes. They are honest and real, and if anything, I believe the Divine loves honest and real.

Throughout our day, we have many invitations to watch and pray. I did the other day. I chose the line at the grocery store I thought was the shortest, but as usual, the one that moved the slowest. The cashier seemed to be taking his time. I found myself becoming annoyed. I began to pray, “Help me!”

But as I waited, I also watched — him and my own feelings. He took his time with each customer, especially with the elderly woman ahead of me. He joked with her and made her smile.

I found my heart softening and my impatience melting as I watched. And now I prayed “Thank you” — a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving that he had been sent as my teacher and was a light in a very dark world.

"In the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on to another, just as one candle is lighted from another," says the encyclical "Lumen Fidei" ("The Light of Faith") from Pope Francis. Pictured are worshippers holding candles during the Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. (CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) (July 5, 2013) See POPE-ENCYCLICAL and ENCYCLICAL-EXCERPTS and ENCYCLICAL-GLANCE July 5, 2013.

We are each called to be that light, not just at Easter, but in every moment of our lives. And we are called to be that light especially as we watch and pray through the mystery of it all — the births, the deaths and the petty annoyances in between.

Anne Lamott has said: “On this side of the grave we’re not going to understand the mystery of God and grace … we know so little.”

But that “not knowing” can also be a gift. It beckons us to trust. It is an invitation to open our heart to a Divine Power who loves us and is with us, in our personal daily struggles and in the world at large.

A loving force who even as we watch and pray, also watches and prays with us through it all — in the Garden and in the empty tomb. Dying with us. Rising with us.