Friday, October 5, 2012

Reflections on an Anniversary

This is a freaky Friday.

Today, Friday, October 5th, marks the five year anniversary of my father's death.  It happened at about 3:40pm on Friday, October 5, 2007.  It was merciful in that my poor dad had really reached the end of his rope.  A stroke, complicated by a Parkinsonian-related disease, and now a feeding tube because he was unable to swallow properly.  That was it.  So, his death and the release of his spirit are not things that I regret and are not so much the center of my reflection today.  What I am aware of is how the event of his death changed the course of my life.

Prior to my father's death, I had separated from the Episcopal Church.  Despite the election of Gene Robinson as a bishop, not all places welcomed the LGBT community, especially in Florida.  I was leery of church people, and even less trusting of priests.  I thought the whole mess was a heap of hypocrisy.  People professing to love Christ, love their neighbors, and yet thought nothing of casting out queers.  Each time a Eucharistic visitor from St. John's came to my dad's assisted living facility to bring him communion, I would look the person over from head-to-toe, inspecting his or her every move and waiting for "the flinch" or "the look" that I had grown accustomed to seeing when an unaware straight person encountered me.  I was, as my mentor once described me, a feral cat.

Dad's death was a turning point in that relationship.  His death forced me to confront the church of my upbringing because we had to hold funerals; hence I had to be present in the church again.  And it wasn't just one; we held the one in New Hampshire with his body present.  And then, at the request of many, we had one in Tallahassee at St. John's.  For me, this was just going through the motions. I would do "the church thing" and then get about living my life as I knew it.

Instead, this would the reconciliation of me and the church.  Perfect, in so many ways, that it happened at St. John's, an Episcopal Church that had been under the influence of virulent homophobia from the mid-90s until the schism in 2005.  Much like the conversion of St. Paul, there was a need for a feral queer to find a place among a congregation that had been made to fear us, and in so doing, both parties could see each other more clearly in the way God has always intended.

Something strange happened after my dad's Tallahassee funeral.  I kept being bothered by hymns.  There had been a few right after his death, but now they were ever-present and wouldn't quit.  My brain had become a jukebox of the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, not to mention fraction anthems from Morning Prayer and the Eucharist.  I found myself singing along:

O ruler of the Universe, Lord God,
Great deeds are they that you have done
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth
O King of all the ages.

I looked that one up.  It is a Morning Prayer canticle titled, "Song of the Redeemed."

The music is what beckoned me to go back after I'd already thought I'd done "the church thing."  And what is clear to me upon reflection was something that I put into a very short performance piece for a Tim Miller workshop: 

My father's life, now in sunset, had given way to a sun rise in me. 

Out of his death came a new birth and understanding of Christ and the ability of God to rescue and redeem all those who have found themselves strangers at the gate.  Once touched by the Love of God this way, there is no turning back and no ability to retreat.  And once this became the root of my being, the direction of my life has moved progressively deeper into relationship with this source of Love manifested in deeper relationship with others around me. 

Breathe on me, Breath of God.  Fill me with life anew.  That I may love as thou dost love and do as thou wouldst do.



Phoebe McFarlin said...

The words of favorite hymns (or ones that keep playing in our minds) teach us theology! I learned 'Breath on me" as a child. It is still important. "O Master let me walk with thee" was another. I had that song at my priesting.

Anonymous said...

The hymns are so important. Love divine, all love excelling. Thank God we have them. They mean so much to me and thank you for this wonderful remembrance, Susan.