Memory loss

Mark Mueller, Elmarie Parker, Rob Weingartner, Elder Zuhair, Marshall Zieman, Tom Boone and Larry Richards offer communion at the Evangelical Church of Basrah, November, 2012.

Mark Mueller, Elmarie Parker, Rob Weingartner, Elder Zuhair, Marshall Zieman, Tom Boone and Larry Richards offer communion at the Evangelical Church of Basrah, November, 2012.

Today was communion Sunday at our church and the familiar words were spoken as we began the celebration of the Lord’s supper:

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

It’s a ritual I first took part in when I received my first communion in second grade at Christ the King Catholic Church here in Omaha, fifty years ago. I wrote about it in my blog last October:

https://jpburgess.me/2014/10/10/remembering/

And every time I receive the elements, the bread and the cup, I remember back to that night.

I remember the communion in Basrah, Iraq, that I witnessed in 2011 as the Presbyterian church there was able to celebrate it because our group brought four pastors with us.

I remember that communion repeated in Basrah in 2012 as we returned with six pastors.

And I remember communion in that same church in March, 2014, as we returned to celebrate communion with them as they now had their own pastor to lead it.

Memories. I collect them like others collect stamps or baseball cards. It’s what makes me Julie, or at least contributes to the essence of me.

Remembering in communion, remembering the sacrifice made for us out of great love, is the center of our Christian worship, its holy essence in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Jana and I just came back from seeing the movie, “Still Alice.” It stars Julianne Moore in the role of a brilliant linguist and college professor, wife and mother of three, who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Bit by bit, she loses the words she is a master of. She gets lost on the campus in her familiar daily run. She forgets where the bathroom is in her home. She forgets the names of those most familiar to her.

And even though her family grieves her loss as she disappears day by day, they love her and care for her and know that she is, after all, still Alice. But in the end, she really is not the Alice that we saw in the beginning. She has been robbed of her essence.

I have seen it happen to others I know as well, real people, not characters in a movie. It is very hard to watch and a feeling of helplessness in the situation is overwhelming.

This movie struck a bitter, minor chord in my heart today because of the recent news of what is happening in Iraq and Syria: the destruction of ancient works of art and ancient manuscripts in Mosul and other places as ISIS deems them idols of the apostate. “These things didn’t exist at the time of the Prophet. They have been invented and must be destroyed,” or something like that.

It’s a bitter chord because it is like a deliberate attack on the essence of who we are as humans and how we developed the languages to tell our story, the grand story of our creation by a loving God. The same creativity he exhibited by speaking us into being and breathing his very breath into us to give us life, has been left behind by those who wrote it down on parchment manuscripts, who sculpted it into winged creatures of bigger-than-life size, who painted it onto canvas or stone walls.

And it is systematically being destroyed, erased, even as the words that Alice knew intimately were wiped one by one from her brain.

I am reading a book right now called High Tea in Mosul by Lynne O’Donnell. She was one of the first journalists to reach this ancient city after the war ended (it never really did, did it?) after the invasion in 2003. I haven’t finished it yet, but in reading it this week I came to a part that just made me want to cry out.

Mosul is the ancient Ninevah of the Bible. The Ninevah that God sent the reluctant prophet Jonah to in order to preach his word of repentance. There is – I mean was – a temple there where Jonah was said to be buried. Lynne talks about it standing there still as testament to the power of the human spirit to hang on even in the hardest and darkest of times.

The book was written in 2007. In 2014, this temple of Jonah was destroyed.

As Alice’s family learns early on after her diagnosis, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.

I don’t know the cure for the scourge of evil that is ISIS. And bit by bit, this disease is robbing our human family of its collective memories, the ancient artifacts that tell our story.

And so I cry out with my brothers and sisters who live there and who watch it happen and are helpless to do anything,

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Habakkuk 1:2

And then I remember the bread and the cup of sacrifice. And I say thank you for the gift of memory. And I write it down and look at the pictures I have taken of men and women and children.

And I pray.

 

Remembering

I had a great email discussion this week with some of my younger colleagues here at West Hills. They are all so smart! So passionate! So willing to discuss and wrestle… Their parents should be proud and I know they are.

It started with this blog post about liturgy:

http://millennialpastor.net/2014/10/07/confessions-of-a-high-church-millennial/

This was the part that really resonated with me:

…the liturgy was more of a timeless aspect of our worship. As a kid and then teen, I could feel the prayers, the liturgical songs, the actions of standing, sitting, praying, responding, receiving were starting to ingrain themselves in my very body. I remember myself starting to set the hymnbook down more and more. I would simply pray or sing or respond. The phrases like “And also with you” or “Thanks be to God” or “Amen” started to come naturally and unbidden.

The actions, the words, the songs…ingrained in my very body. Remembered.

This was my response in one part of our conversation about liturgy:

I think the reason I sent the blog out originally was because of the part that resonated with me most: the act of liturgy as remembering. I think we forget sometimes that the work of the people or for the people was handed down by real people who lived so long ago and set the rhythm in motion that we would remember who it was that brought us there in the first place. That we remember that the Gloria was sung by the angels to the only one worthy of it. That the bread and the cup were first lifted by the one who gave his life for us. That when we say the Lord’s Prayer it is in the words he taught to those listening to what he had to say. That when we arise and declare what we believe in the Apostles’ Creed, it is the work of ancient generations hammering out what do we believe anyway.

So remembering is important to me so we can pass it on to others, just as it was passed on to us.

I surround myself with touchstones of memory, not gathered to me for the importance of having stuff, but important because of what is attached to them: remembrances of real people and places that God has put in my path.

20141010 rosaryIn my purse is this old rosary. It’s there next to a glow-in-the-dark plastic statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I need the rosary when I attend the rosary service of dear people who are Roman Catholic. It reminds me of the rosary we had when my own mother died. It even takes me back to grade school – first and second – at Christ the King here in Omaha. One service in the gym was led by Father Hupp and a human chain of rosary beads in the form of the altar boys and others. Father carried the big crucifix and they all followed behind him as we recited the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the decades of Hail Marys, the joyful mysteries of Christ. The rhythm of that celebration is ingrained in my body. I don’t need the rosary to count; I can do that with the motion of my hands in the praying. But the rosary itself in my purse with the plastic Mary helps me remember who passed that faith on to me and helped me grow in it.

I have a credenza full of the stuff of memories.

There are photos of my German daughters Fine and Johanna and Kathe who remind me that young people still come20141010 inside credenza to faith and want to share it, even in another language!

There is my West Hills Holy Cow award from Kathy Leach, who loved our group portrayal of the Little Sisters of Perpetual Responsibility at a Super Supper several years ago. It reminds me that others love the joy of worship with laughter.

There is my reminder from Jody Filipi to “SING: make music with your hearts to the Lord,” from Ephesians chapter 5. If there is one thing I NEVER forget, it’s to sing.

There is the picture of the peace pole that George Moore took for me in the Holy Land. “May peace prevail on the earth.” That pole with a prayer reminded him of me, and now the picture reminds me of him and how he knew how much I long for peace.

There is a picture of me and my siblings with our dad at Easter, 2007. He stopped his dialysis the next day and went to be with mom and Jesus two weeks later. It is a reminder of how we all laughed and joked and ate a big dinner in celebration of life and then two weeks later, sat by his side together as he took his last breath in this life and was released from his earthly pain into an everlasting life.

20141010 credenza topThere is a framed poster from the church in Germany that represented their theme for that year, “Himmel und Erde werden vergehen. Meine Worte aber werden nicht vergehen.” (Mark 13:31) “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away.” It will not be forgotten. It will be remembered.

There are a number of other things up there from my travels in the Middle East. There is my Druze princess hat from Byblos in Lebanon. There is an acrylic plaque from the Middle East Council of Churches and a porcelain plate from the Sunday school in Damascus, Syria. The silly together with the sacred. They all remind me of names and faces of people dear to me, but even more dear to God.

20141010 map of middle eastAnd next to me, on my wall, is a map of the world. The reminder is that God’s people are everywhere. His family, my family, everywhere. And the ones who handed down this faith to me started right there in the middle. They are in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Egypt, in Palestine. Some of them still offer their worship – do their liturgy, their remembering – in languages that go back to Jesus.

And as I look at that map and watch the news, I remember that many of them are in great pain, undergoing a horrible time of trial, as they come face to face with war and death and evil. And I remember to pray.

And that is my liturgy, the ingraining in my body and heart, the remembering, the work of this person.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.

 

Memorabilia

I was looking for a particular old letter today, and frustratingly enough, I couldn’t find it. One of the reasons I am writing this blog is to practice telling stories of my family as Sally and I begin work on a family memoir. I am in possession of a seriously unorganized repository of family history in the form of mostly photos and birthday cards from our childhood. There are also some very precious letters and newspaper articles from Mom’s association with an Omaha World-Herald reporter who was her classmate at Creighton. I was looking for one of those letters that Mom wrote, but before I laid hands on it, I found this old newspaper clipping.

Omaha World-Herald article from sometime in 1961.

Omaha World-Herald article from sometime in 1961.

Yes, that is me in an artistic phase I don’t remember and has not been duplicated since, at least in paints. Most of my brothers and sisters had preschool at the Joslyn Memorial Art Museum here in Omaha. I do remember those wonderful days and used to know every nook and cranny of that building from so many hours spent there. And I thought this article – I have seen it before – was from that time in preschool, but the text clearly indicates otherwise.

Thirty-six children and their parents participated in a kite-decorating class at Joslyn Art Museum Sunday afternoon. Mary Lawbaugh, director of museum classes, admonished the adults “It’s not fair for parents to copy children’s designs, even though the children’s are usually better.” In a matter of minutes, cats, Donald Ducks, dogs, farm animals, flowers and gardens began to appear on the kite covers. Julie Prescott, three, was one of the more intense painters. She, with her sister, Jana, four, and brother, George, Jr., five, the children of Mr. and Mrs. George Prescott, 7806 Ontario Street, were downtown to attend a movie, but a long line at the theater changed their minds. Mrs. Lawbaugh said the class was offered to youths last year and was so popular she decided to invite adults.

It’s an old, faded and yellowed piece of newsprint, but today, in my fingers, it’s like holding onto treasure. I found it folded inside a letter than my Aunt Sandy sent to me about nine years ago. In the note she mentions the dress I am wearing that she remembers buying for me as a gift (probably for my third birthday). “I always loved the little plaid dresses with the smocking,” she wrote. Even forty-some years later, she remembered the dress.

It’s treasure to me for so many reasons. First and foremost, it is a reminder that there was a time when my sisters and brothers and I had a mom and a dad who liked to do things with us. My dad worked hard every day at the family print shop, but there were wonderful weekend days when we would go to the movies together. Mom died when I was seven, which was just four years after this was in the paper. She was ill then, but went on to give life to what would eventually be a family of seven children.

Secondly, we didn’t have a lot of money. I can imagine how hard it was to stretch it far enough to send each of us to preschool. And not only preschool, but one in an art museum where we would get to paint and to sculpt and to explore the wonders of a beautiful architectural space in our own city. I can still stand in the fountain court of that building and remember the sounds and the smells of that space from 1961!

Finally it’s a treasure because mom and her family stayed connected and shared their lives through correspondence because they lived so far apart. It was important to them to mark those moments and share them with each other. Aunt Sandy saved that article all those years so she could one day send it back to me as a gift of a memory. And that is what it is.

It’s a treasure. I can’t wait to uncover more.