Last time I ended with this, “And that I thought was the end of the story. Just another complacent American Christian of the Lutheran variety.” So let’s continue
But one day, on a whim, because I was bored, I started a blog, and it still exists (here), and like most of us, I began reading and commenting on a variety of blogs. On one of them, on the day the Supreme Court ruled on Obamacare, there was a Bible quote from a Brit girl commiserating with us. Usually, I’m not impressed with people who simply quote (or cherry pick) the Bible. But there was something compelling about that one, and I came back later and followed the link. Most of you know that that commenter was our own Jessica.
And that is when I started becoming a serious Christian. My basic beliefs have hardly changed at all but Jess, and Chalcedon, and Servus, and the rest past and present, and a very high percentage of them still read here although their comments are sparser than I would wish, have deepened and broadened my faith more than I would have ever believed possible.
Still what can I say about Jess, for more than anything it was her guidance, her gift for teaching, her basic Christian decency, and her love that fertilized my growth. Not to mention the poetry. Who could resist Chesterton when one is down and ready to despair?
And this was the might of Alfred,
At the ending of the way;
That of such smiters, wise or wild,
He was least distant from the child,
Piling the stones all day.
The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.
She made a pilgrimage to Walsingham that summer before starting her job. She wrote about it here and in other following articles (search for Walsingham). Walsingham was known throughout the middle ages as England’s Nazareth, and every King of England made that pilgrimage from Richard I to Henry VIII and then it was destroyed as part of the suppression of the Monasteries. A shocking bit of vandalism.
But she opened my eyes that weekend to a part of the Faith that I had never considered: Marian veneration. She did it in an altogether unexpected way, she simply lit a candle for me and prayed for me. I was very moved. Her explanation was so clear and sensible that I instantly understood, and after a bit of research it has become part of my life as well. She has a gift of being able to explain the most complex things so clearly that even a broken down old lineman can understand. That was also the weekend that she became my dearest friend. And she also introduced me to some of Eliot’s poetry that has become my favorite, from Little Gidding, as well as hers:
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
And so it went, she always found me fertile ground for well reasoned analysis as I did her. In time she became my editor at NEO, and her gifts translated well into the fields I write about, which didn’t surprise me at all, although modest girl that she is, she may have been.
And so we went on, leaning on each other as we had problems, always, and helping each other as we could. She became muse, partner, supporter, and dearest friend, whom I love more than I ever have anyone.
That is very true, as events have proved. When she went to the hospital last September with cancer, my world essentially stopped. I spent most of September on my knees praying for her. When she was miraculously cured, at the very last moment and her move to the retreat center, while reasonable, and not unexpected, left me with a huge hole in my life. I spent a good part of last fall physically ill from some of the dissonances set up in my mind and soul, until for the third time since I’ve known Jess, the Lord reached down and lifted my burden to the point I can bear it, barely. And yet, even in this, Jess had left advice for us, in her absence:
In this life we lose those we love, and they lose us; even the happiest of marriages ends in a bereavement. Often, we are rejected by others, and we are dead to them, and they to us. But unless we die, this alone we know, we cannot rise to life in Jesus.
And for the regulars here that know us both, you know there will be Kipling:
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began: —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Which I think is about the best description of real life you will ever find.
And yes, her absence still gnaws at my heart and soul, I expect it always shall, so the lesson from this part of my life was best expressed by John Donne.
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.