It’s taken me longer than usual to write this month’s blog. Some months I would have probably had two written by now. I started one on the day of my late Mom’s birthday, but was crying too much to see much of what I was writing – and it seemed just a touch *too* self-indulgent (though as a good friend of mine has pointed out, blogs are inherently self-indulgent). So what got me started on this one? A variety of things, but the main touchstone was Memorial Day: the real Memorial Day – the day set aside strictly for remembering those who have *DIED* IN THE LINE of DUTY to our country.
In my family, I think of my great-uncle Paul who died in Brittany on August 14th, 1944 – the day of his own mother’s (my great-grandmother’s) birthday…. and exactly 20 years before my younger brother’s birthday. My dad always gave me the impression that his uncle Paul was his very favorite uncle, so I’m sure he was thinking of him twenty years later when my younger brother was born. Mom always told me that my brothers were named for the Biblical Mark (writer of the Gospel) and Paul (the apostle to the Gentiles); I suspect that Dad had someone else in mind when Paul was born. I mentioned this to Mom in the last year that she was alive, and she conceded that could have been true. Why do I think so? My Dad always let me know that Paul the Apostle was one of the least favorite of his among Biblical persons and characters; he much preferred the apostle Peter and Thomas (he considered Paul the Apostle a know-it-all, and Peter as much more likable). Dad also had a very deep love of family. He adored his grandmother, and really loved his uncle, so I’m pretty sure that he would have been thinking of them when his own son was born on that special day. This is only my opinion and guess – mind you…. only Dad could have said for certain – and I never thought to ask him while he was alive (Dang it all!). Our family is very good, though, at passing down memories and family facts from one generation to another…. so I may not be too far off on this.
On my other side of the family, things also got passed down from generation to generation. I’m very lucky: both sides of my family were very good at keeping track of the family tree, and of passing on memories from one generation to the next. I was able to create a family tree from the information passed to me on my dad’s side, based on information provided in a letter to the same great-grandmother who lost her son on her birthday in World War II. On my mother’s side, my grandfather had already created a family tree soon after my younger brother was born (I know, because I added the next generation on to that tree). With the help of my grandfather, my grandmother, and my great-aunts (Grandmom’s sister Peg and Grandpop’s sister Eva), I was able to add more information to the older parts of that family tree. After I lost all of them to death, Mom helped me with more information, and I checked on Ancestry.Com (during their “free offer” weekends!). I found a great resource when I worked in Rutgers University’s archives as a student archival assistant: during breaks, I would check in a book of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ship registrations that I found in the archives (I worked there in the late 1980s, while I was working on my MLS). That book was a gold-mine!!!
It wasn’t just family information that was passed down on my mother’s side, though; there was a heritage of faith. For four generations, my mother’s side had been active church-goers…. but not just the kind that sat in the pews. Grandmom passed on a love of hymns and using music to share faith that has literally sustained me in MY faith journey, as I know it sustained her. Mom’s faith was quiet, and sometimes – to my eyes – seemed a little too constrained, but as I put aside my youthful judgements I came to appreciate that quiet faith. We would share our favorite Christian authors, and talk with each other about our impressions of what faith should (or did) mean in our lives. I learned most of my faith from my father, I admit, but I did absorb a huge amount from my mom and her side of the family. Both my father and my mother sought to pass down the Christian faith, without being heavy-handed, from one generation to another.
Faith can be handed down from generation to generation in a wider context as well. This is very hopeful for me, because at less than one month from turning 52, and no children, I am not going to be able to pass my faith down to my own child born of my own body. (I may still end up as a step-mother or step-grandmother, but I’m not going to count on that possibility <rueful look>). I can still seek to pass down my faith through writing: either hymns or stories, or the novel that is still being written (or should I say novels — I’ve started more than a few during the past 30-40 years). This is not as unrealistic as I once thought. Some of my faith has been formed and deepened by writers who lived before I was born.
Francis Ridley Havergal was a hymn writer in the 19th century. Her best known hymn is “Take my life, and let me be consecrated, Lord, to thee”, but she wrote quite a few more; she was, herself, a direct descendent of one of the Protestants burned during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1158), and it was important to her as a part of her heritage. Francis Havergal died almost a century before I was born, and was only 41 or 42 with no husband or children (at a time when that would have been a cause for pity on the part of society), and yet her words have consistently deepened the life and faith of a girl born in 1962 (I started singing her hymns when I was very young), who had a great many struggles dealing with life…. and who still, as an adult, uses what Miss Havergal wrote to live a fuller and more meaningful life.
Elizabeth Goudge is another woman who has passed faith on to me. She was born the year the Queen Mother Elizabeth was born (and the same year as my own grandmother – the one who taught me to so love hymns), and died the year I graduated from college (1984); I never met her, but her writing made a profound impact on me. It still does…. especially her book The Scent of Water. My copy of that book is a reprint from 1971 (I was 9), but the original book was written the year after I was born. I read it when I was young and loved it, but didn’t realize how important it would become to me later. Two (or three, if one includes the sister of the vicar) of the characters in the book are disabled in either mind or body. This became extremely important to me when I rediscovered the book in my late 20s and early 30s. This was the same time when I got diagnosed with OCD and then with Tourettes (which I had suspected long before I had it medically diagnosed), and then with ADHD.
Even when I was young, I had already appreciated the characters when I only knew that I was dealing with severe Hypothyroidism; I appreciated the characters in The Scent of Water even more after I got diagnosed with the other conditions (I had always had these conditions, along with the Hypothyroidism, I just hadn’t known what *precisely* I had been dealing with). Older Cousin Mary Lindsey, and the monk/carver W.H. have become my companions when I am dealing with struggles within my mind, my body, and/or my spirit since I have rediscovered the book yet a third time (just a week ago or so, when I joined an on-line group of people who appreciate Miss Goudge’s writing and then discovered that I still had a Scent of Water among my many books). These characters, and the way in which Miss Goudge wrote about them, nurture me and comfort me and help strengthen me when I am frustrated and irritated (or even angry) with myself.
When I read anything that builds me up, either in mind or body or spirit, I always find myself hoping that I will write something that will touch someone else; especially a young person, and even more a young child or person who struggles with life and with finding her or his precise place in the world. For now, I have one hymn (sung at my home church, and one of the district women’s conferences, but never published) to my credit, and the articles on this blog. I’m still working to overcome my worst enemies: my procrastination tendencies, and my fear that more will be expected of me than I can provide (translation: fear of success – to be blunt).
My first article this month – which I never finished (actually never got past the title) – was going to be called Creeds and Crying. The crying would have been an acknowledgement that I was a sopping crying mess on the day of my Mom’s birthday; the creeds would have been referring particularly to the Apostles’ Creed. This creed is recited in most of the Christian Churches that use creeds; certainly the Methodist Church uses it (also the Catholic, the Episcopal, the Lutheran, the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, etc., and etc. – yes, I have missed a few….). Toward the very end of the creed there are the words “I believe in the Communion of the Saints”. I’ve taken this phrase as my own (as I have also taken “Take my life and let it be” as my own personal hymn), as it best describes what I take to be the Biblical urging and impulse to pass the faith “From Generation To Generation”. The Bible speaks of “a great cloud of witnesses”, and it suggests that this great cloud of witnesses covers many generations of those who have shared the Christian faith; those coming before our time, and those coming after us. So I still have hope that I can pass some of what I have experienced and learned onto another generation: even if I never meet the people that I am writing for, and hoping to share my faith and my life with.
By the way: the phrase “From Generation to Generation” ? I take that from the Bible too. It’s found throughout the Psalms, and in many other books of the Bible as well. I will admit, though, that some of this urge to share is purely selfish. I want my life to mean something… and for me it won’t be done physically by sharing my blood or DNA, it will be done by someone being touched, uplifted, and helped by what I have dealt with in life. I already know my life has purpose – Jesus has let me know that, but I want at least the knowledge of the possibility that I have helped others while I live (which -God help me – may be until I’m a hundred years old!), and that I may touch the life of someone else after I am gone… as my family, Francis Havergal, and Elizabeth Goudge have touched me.