Heart

Memories made, lessons learned at our family table ~ Lois Rogers, guest blogger

The solid maple dining table is considered vintage now. If things go as I pray they will, it’s well on its way to becoming a cherished antique. Loistable

Just recently, it went out the door of my house, where it settled after my parents’ home was sold, never to return. Safely conveyed with its matching chairs by good friends to the young adult son of another good friend, it’s my hope that the table is once again destined to serve as a linchpin, connecting good meals and good conversation with good faith.

Such was its role from the time my mother settled on its wide, round, archetypal Colonial frame – the trend back in the ‘60s when it was new. She and my father found its shape appealing, I remember her saying to all of us.

No one sat at the head of the table or, by extension, at its foot. Everyone had good eye contact with each other. Best of all, our parents explained, sitting in a circle obstructed the view of the equally new, large color television set in the living room during meals, making conversation while perhaps not mandatory, certainly highly recommended.

Since those days, the table has taken a few hard knocks, from myself and my brothers, our friends and the frisky onslaught of the generation that followed us.

While well-intentioned rough housing – a burn here, a nick there – left marks over the decades, the table moved steadily through time, a bulwark that gathered family together into safe harbor at least once a day.

Getting it ready to leave for its new home as part of the “de-cluttering” process recommended by a home sale expert, I couldn’t help but revisit those meals.

The number of graces prayed over the food spread out on its surface like manna on holy days, holidays and Sacramental occasions is incalculable. The bread broken at that table among relatives and friends was something like loaves and fishes, especially in the lean times everyone shared at one time or another.

The image of my mother spreading clear plastic over the table when the grandchildren were just little tykes so they could make as much of a mess as they wanted and just have a good time stands out clearly in the mind’s eye. So does the picture of my dad engaging in philosophical conversations over snacks with our friends who sought out his company on Friday and Saturday nights.

When the table came to my house, I knew I inherited more than a round piece of wood on a sturdy base. I inherited a whole legacy, passed down by my mother and father of traditions that spanned, if not the world, at least Europe.

Blended together were ingredients that sparked the desire to know all about the people who created them, their customs, and their beliefs. It created a thirst to know what caused them to depart Ireland, Italy, the British Isles, the backwaters of the Austro Hungarian Empire and Scandinavia and stick it out in the face of terrible hardship.

The insights I gleaned from sitting with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and our friends made it hard to give that table up. Still, it would have been much harder to send it off to a secondhand store or a garage sale, where its fate would have been unknown.

Just this week, while researching a story on how grandparents are coping with the digital whirlwind enveloping society, I found a number of stories on how the dining table had dropped from the single most important piece of furniture in the house to fourth or even fifth place.

After years of knowing the mom of the young man who wanted the table for his first apartment and her love of family and home, I have a feeling our family table will buck that trend.

PHOTO: BEARING WITNESS • This photo shows my mother holding her granddaughter, Jeannie, at the beloved family table. The table, now on its way to a new home, was at the center of more than one lifetime of memories.  

This column first appeared in the Aug. 9, 2018, issue of The Monitor, official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton. 


Remembering is an Ebenezer passion and 'stone of help'

 

The ceiling of the Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church soars more than 70 feet high, supported by walls of cast stone, brownstone and brick. Stoneofhelp
Looking out across the congregation from a folding chair in front of the sanctuary steps, my eyes moved upwards across soaring stained glass windows, as if following the strains of the oboe with notes rising to fill the expanse of space above. 

There I noticed the resemblance of the ceiling trusses to the hull of a ship, symbolic, says the church history, of a vessel carrying pilgrims home safely to port.

“What perfect traveling music,” I thought, moved to tears by our oboist’s exquisite rendering of the hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Oboe.”  The piece was just one of many offered by the Tim Keyes Consort as part of a service of remembrance celebrating the life of Geoffrey Ames Petersen, a consummate musician, organist, composer, teacher, and friend, say those who knew him well.

It was an experience of which I was especially grateful to be a part, for what is more meaningful than remembering and celebrating the life of another?

In looking back on more than 10 years of singing with the Consort, it seemed that this service of remembering was really part of a pattern, or more significantly, a passion of our director – a passion for remembering; remembering Christ, Mary, the Saints, the Apostles, the words of Scripture, the glory of creation, the richness and gifts of every culture, the value of each life.

In what he composes and what he calls the Consort to perform, Tim offers us, and our audiences, an opportunity to recall the glory and goodness of our loving God, an opportunity to be enriched in our faith and our musical lives.  He offers us an Ebenezer.

Most of us would probably associate the name with Dicken’s “Christmas Carol” and the miserly curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge. Perhaps there is more meaning in the name than we’ve realized.

In the Bible, in the Book of Samuel, we read about the Israelites’ losses in battle to the Philistines. The Israelites press Samuel to continue in his prayers to God on their behalf, and as he does so, God throws the Philistines into confusion and they are subdued by the Israelites.

Scripture recounts, “Samuel then took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Jeshanah; he named it Ebenezer, explaining, ‘As far as this place the Lord has been our help.’”

The “stone of help” would serve as a reminder to the Israelites of God’s presence and assistance.

In our lives, Ebenezers may be crafted or experienced in any number of ways, but always serving to remind us of the ever-present love of God – songs, hymns, prayer, Scripture, sacramentals, liturgy, the sacraments, and, perhaps most especially, other people.

Then there is Ebenezer Scrooge.

I always wondered why Charles Dickens chose the name for his protagonist.

But I find it interesting that, after a night of remembering and foreseeing which leads to an epiphany, the man best described early on as Scrooge, becomes the true man, Ebenezer, a “stone of help,” for Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family, and, no doubt, many others. Finally, Ebenezer was able to love and to accept love.

It seems Dickens understood it is only in our remembering that we become who we are meant to be.

“I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; Surely I will remember your wonders of old.” Psalm 77:11

A column from Things My Father Taught Me. Mary may be reached at mary.wellspring@yahoo.com. Her book, “Things My Father Taught Me About Love,” can be found on Amazon Kindle. Follow her on Twitter @mreginam6.


Resurrection is the reason for our hope and joy

We all have a story.

For families, the story includes those of parents, children and the ones we love, living life intertwined, each person affected, for better or for worse, by the joys, Crossonsnowmountain
sorrows, and choices of those whose stories touch ours.

Sometimes, it is in the darkest moments of our stories that we become aware of our own capacity to love.

My epiphany came on Mother’s Day, 2015.  It was not, perhaps, an epiphany to match that of Thomas Merton, the very famous Trappist monk who had an epiphany of love on a street corner in Louisville. But it was my epiphany and all the more meaningful for me.

I was sitting in the locked-down lobby of the county jail while waiting to visit my son. I had been visiting once or twice a week for the past two months, and every time, as I sat waiting, I was thinking, “This was never part of my plan. How did we get to this place?”

My first visit was surreal … being buzzed in, the police officer checking my ID behind a protective shield, the glass window behind which my son stood when he was brought down, the phones we used to communicate, the prisoner’s uniform. It just seemed like a scene from “Law and Order” instead of one from my own family story.

I realized that, in jail, they use the more politically correct term of inmate instead of prisoner, but prisoner is what my son really was – a prisoner of opiates long before he ended up behind that glass window in that uniform. I felt sick, heart-broken, guilty and alone. Surely, looking around the lobby on that first visit, I didn’t belong here, and neither did my son. Still, here we were, at the cross.

But in one instant on Mother’s Day, in that dreary jail lobby, I realized that all of us, waiting for our turn to visit, had entered, in our own way, into the life of Christ. Like the Apostles, each of us, no matter how different and in spite of our own weaknesses, were there because we loved someone, hoping to make a difference in their life by our simple presence – and I heard the words of the powerful Taize hymn, “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray.”

In the Gethsemane stories of those who sat waiting with me, I heard their unique, yet familiar, struggles – broken marriages, broken relationships, drug addiction, the death of children, bad choices, bad friends, loss of faith, loss of family, suicide, terrible financial difficulties and, sometimes, homelessness. Some stories were so heartbreaking I could barely contain my emotions, and I was grateful, and privileged, to have exchanged promises to pray for one another.

Not long after Mother’s Day, my son called to tell me he had been paroled. His time in jail had been good for him. He was drug free, though he would need continued support to stay so, and he was positive and prayerful, looking forward to a new chapter in his life. “See, I make all things new,” filled my heart.

I remember breaking down in tears. “My son is coming home,” I thought, and I wondered if God might have had a similar feeling on the day of the Resurrection. Surely, the God of Love would have felt the pain and anguish of his only beloved Son, and would have known the joy of Jesus’ coming home, the joy of new life. Certainly, Mary did.

How far we have come, my son and I, since the days when an exceptionally inquisitive toddler would find ways to escape the locked doors of our house and wander happily in his pajamas in the new winter snow in our backyard. Loving him has taken on new forms as he’s grown into a man. One of the most meaningful has been waiting with him in Gethsemane, and walking with him as he embraced his crosses. It has not been easy. After all, the hallmark of a mother is to fix everything, to take away pain and make things better. Part of the growing up process for moms is accepting that there are many things we cannot control.

For us, as Christians, Jesus’ Resurrection changes everything.  With love at its heart, the Resurrection is the reason for our greatest hope and our greatest joy. It allows us to accept the invitation to new life that is inherent in every cross, and to hold on to our faith in God’s promises.

For me, the Resurrection has become a new focus of my faith, one that as allowed me to believe, when others didn’t, that my son would experience his own resurrection through his singular faith in God.

That is reason for a very joyous, “Alleluia!”


We must open the gift to discover what's inside

My mother loved receiving gifts, as most of us do, but for her it seemed to be a sworn duty to IMG_0199
display as many of them as she could, and once displayed they rarely came down.  It didn’t matter if the gift was a small, wild-haired troll or a beautiful porcelain sculpture of Rapunzel, with golden locks cascading around her feet.  They all shared a place of honor in our home.

Among those gifts were a variety of painted and jeweled eggs, most often given to her by my dad. Their beauty was in the remarkable designs and craftsmanship on their shells.  So when I received an exceptionally lovely porcelain egg music box from a special friend several years ago, I assumed all the beauty was on the outside.

I placed it behind the glass doors of our hutch, for protection, but close to the front so I could see it every time I walked by. But today was different. After having a heated “discussion” with my guardian angel earlier in the morning, and not being surprised if she were to take the day off, I stopped in front of the hutch and stared at the gilded egg.  Something inside me said “open it,” and for the first time, upon closer inspection, I realized the egg was formed of two separate halves.

I pulled the halves apart and there stood an enchanting guardian angel adorned with rhinestones.  Finally, the guardian angel prayer written in gold letters beneath the egg made sense, and I wondered if it were possible for me to be any denser.

I immediately moved this very thoughtful gift to my desk, leaving the egg open so I could see the little guardian angel who brightens my day.  She also serves as a reminder of a few things: Guardian angels are very patient with our humanness, friends are a true blessing for which we should be grateful, and never be impressed solely by outside appearances.  You never know what waits on the inside.

" ... let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart ... " 1 Peter 3:4