I’ve spent the better part of the past two days reconstructing this site, trying different themes, looking for ways to improve the archives. Finally hit on this format (the theme is “twenty ten”). Not perfect, but it will have to do. If you have any comments/thoughts I welcome them.
Last week I spent time reconnecting with people from different times in my life. My best friend since 9th grade, as well as two other close friends. These are the kinds of friendships that no matter how long we’ve been apart we can pick right up where we left off as if no time had gone by at all. Those are the most precious of friendships. Together with my son, whose birthday we celebrated while in DC, I was able to share the joy of two friends who had recently purchased this house.
I also visited places. In addition to the embassies I wrote about in my last post, I drove by the house where I grew up — so familiar and yet so strange, and visited not only the cemetery where my mother is buried, but also Dumbarton Oaks where she worked for over thirty years. “D.O.” is renowned for its Byzantine collection, its Pre-Colombian collection housed in a space designed by noted architect Philip Johnson, and its stunning gardens. This is the swimming pool in those gardens where I learned how to swim.
I visited another place of deep meaning to me. I have been back to my alma mater Virginia Theological Seminary since Immanuel Chapel burned down in 2010, but I had not been back since it was converted into an outdoor worship space and the new chapel built. I attended daily morning prayer and weekly Eucharist in community with my fellow seminarians and faculty for three years in that chapel; that is where I preached my first sermon.
The chapel was shared with Immanuel-Church-on-the-Hill (I hear they recently eliminated the dashes, but I am a Luddite and will continue to use them), so after I was called to be the assistant rector at ICOH the memories continued. I was ordained there on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation — 7 months pregnant! On a random Sunday I drew the short straw as the designated preacher/celebrant for the 8 am service only to discover the Presiding Bishop in the congregation that day. It was in that chapel that I once attended a weekday mass with my then two-year-old son who, when it came time to receive communion, had a mini meltdown when the celebrant offered him a blessing instead of the bread — teaching me once and for all that even the youngest child “gets” what is happening at communion and knows he doesn’t want to be excluded. To her credit, the celebrant caught herself and immediately offered him the bread. It was also in that chapel that I deeply offended the liturgical sensibilities of my favorite VTS professor by suggesting that we read the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel at the conclusion of the Christmas Eve midnight service. “The worst excesses of Rome!” my very low church professor said as I burst into tears. We apologized and laughed about it after; in his apology Charlie shared the insight that what “separates a liturgist from a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist!”
These and so many more memories came flooding back to me as I mustered the strength to say goodbye and enter the new chapel. Which is beautiful, and very functional. I took numerous pictures as ideas to bring home to St. Stephen’s with me. But it is still made of virgin stones; it will take years of the prayers of the faithful, shared memories, and life events to truly sanctify it.
There is one person in particular with whom I wanted to re-connect when I was in DC last week. I have known her most of my life — in fact our families had known each other for four generations. My great-great-grandfather was her great-grandfather’s lawyer back in the town of Shabatz in eastern Serbia. I had not seen her in almost twenty years, despite having been back to DC many times. I can’t explain why — because any explanation would just be an excuse. And then of course the more time that went by the harder it became to call for fear that she would give me a (frankly well-deserved) guilt trip. Her sister had died four years ago and I didn’t reach out. Again, no excuse.
But I put my big girl pants on and made the call. Knowing that she had every right to not want to see me, or to lecture me on my neglect and absence. Being fully prepared that might happen — but also knowing that if I didn’t call I couldn’t really embark on an abstract journey of re-membering and reconciliation if I couldn’t make that a reality in my own life.
She did not turn me away, but welcomed me with open arms and a delicious Serbian lunch. We spent several hours catching up and remembering. The word “re-member” literally means “to put the members back together” and that is at the heart of what we do each time we share the Eucharist. The grain once scattered is brought together in the bread we share, just as we are brought together in Christ.
In my pastoral work over the years I have heard so many stories of once-close family members or once-close friends being alienated from one another. Cast asunder, cut off. But we are meant to live in community with one another and each of us has bits of ourselves scattered in the many people whose lives have intersected our own. It may seem daunting to try to reconnect with someone from whom you’ve been estranged, but I believe that, more often than not, they are longing for it every bit as much as you are.
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all
— John Lennon