The Miracle of Reconciliation– Two Memories of Good Friday

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MY M0THER AND THE THREE MARYS

I remember my mother’s tears on this day, Good Friday, and wondering why she was so sad. Jesus had been crucified a long, long time ago. It wasn’t happening now. But, to Mom, it was. Like the three Mary’s at the foot of the crosses, Mom was weeping in her pew. I remember the white handkerchief dabbing the cornerS of her eyes.

I was five or six years old the first time I saw Mom at the foot of the cross with the three Marys. The Marys were all gone. Only Mom and her white handkerchief continued the vigil, and it happened every year on Good Friday. It was in junior high school that I began to get under the tears and weep them for myself. I “got” the cruelty of it.

The pounding of nails into wrists and feet. The soldiers laughing at him while they gambled for his clothes. If they were gambling for his clothes, was Jesus naked in front of the whole world? Was the crown of thorns the only thing he wore? Were the thorns cutting into his head? “I thirst.” They give him vinegar on the end of stick! He looks down at John. “Behold your mother; woman, behold your son.” Take my mother home! Mary doesn’t go home. She stays by him until the end. She winces at the nightmare she cannot end: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabstachtani?” (My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?), watches as a soldier puts a hole in his side; weeps inconsolably when it is finished, and they take him away.

How could Mom not cry hearing that? How could anyone not reach for a handkerchief?

“GOD WAS IN CHRIST, RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF”

Years later, Ken and Ilse Beaufoy and I observed Good Friday in the pews of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church. Aside from one or two others who dropped by for a short time each year, we were alone in the church. Beginning at noon, at half hour intervals, we read aloud a portion of the Passion narratives paused in silence, listened to the corresponding movement from Rutter’s Requiem, spoke a brief prayer, and sat in the silence until the next half hour.

The Good Fridays with Ken (and Ilse, before she died) were unique. An American Presbyterian minister with a married couple, Ken a former Biitish soldier, and Ilse, a former member of the Luftwaffe, one of only two women awarded the Iron Cross. Ken and Ilse met at a dance sponsored by the occupying forces following WW II. Ilse was one of two women Luftwaffe soldiers awarded the Iron Cross for standing her post during the Allied bombing of Hamburg.

Despite objections and death threats from family members, Ken and Ilse committed themselves to the bonds of marriage. What else but the reconciling love of God could bridge the gulf of former enemy combatants? Five decades later, Ilse died moments after hearing the words of permission that would only have meaning to a decorated war hero who had stayed at her anti-aircraft post atop the Hamburg bunker to protect the civilians below. “You no longer need to stand your post. You no longer need to fight. It’s time to go home. Go in peace.” From that day on, there were just the two of us staying by the cross from noon to 3:00 on Good Friday.

Rutter’s “Pie Jesu” did not explain the crucifixion or the peace it brought Ken and Ilse Beaufoy. It didn’t need to. Some things cannot be explained. They can only be lived…with thanksgiving for abounding grace while dabbing the corner of your eyes with a handkerchief.

— Gordon C. Stewart by the wilderness, Minnesota, Good Friday, April 19, 2019

Spam, Scrapple, and Stocks

“We’re having SPAM tonight!” my mother would announce, as if it were a rare treat.

Spam_can By Qwertyxp2000 [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Mom was a genius at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear at the end of the month. Her children never knew our family lived from paycheck to paycheck, or that the paychecks were often late. When they were late, she’d announce with enthusiasm, “Tonight, we’re having Scrapple!”

640px-Plate_of_scrapple

Spam and Scrapple were part of our vocabulary. Stocks? Only from the news. Mom’s shopping at the Acme in working class Broomall created little family interest in the stock market. Wall Street and stock portfolios were for people a few miles away in Bryn Mawr, Merion, and Wynnwood on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

My brothers and I had no idea what Spam and Scrapple were. We knew Mom bought them at the Acme. They came in cans. They smelled delicious while frying, and we devoured them as though they were filet mignons. It was many years later we learned that scrapple is made from hog offal, i.e., what remains of a pig after the ham and bacon are removed, and the makings of Spam are only a little better.

We knew even less about the stock market than about the Spam and Scrapple Mom served up in a pinch. People with stocks didn’t pinch pennies at the Acme or buy their children’s back-to-school clothes at the Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift Shop. We didn’t feel bad about having no stocks; we just knew stocks weren’t meant for us. The closest we got to the stock market was driving through wealthier Philadelphia Mainline neighborhoods, admiring the Christmas light displays of showcase homes. At school we imagined living in one of those wealthier communities.

Today, all these years later, I have a stock portfolio. I no longer eat Scrapple or Spam. But I know spam when I see it. It arrives every morning in tweets that equate the country’s wellbeing with today’s stock market value, and spams illusions of filet mignons to the Acme- and thrift shop-shoppers who still pinch pennies on Spam and Scrapple.

MomMom would have a cow!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 5, 2018

 

 

 

Mom’s Handkerchief – Good Friday

Mom

Muriel Titus Stewart

As a child, I wondered why they called Good Friday ‘good’. It wasn’t. It was awful.

At the annual Good Friday service my mother’s cheeks were wet. She’d hold her handkerchief in one hand and, without drawing attention to herself — Mom was shy and shunned attention — she would dab the tears, hoping no one would notice.

A soloist would sing:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when the crucified my Lord? Oh……

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Mom would dab her cheeks and eyes.

As I grew older I began to understand why they called the Friday of the crucifixion ‘good’. It wasn’t good because they nailed him to the tree, or because they took him down and laid him in a borrowed tomb. It was good because, in that deep darkness, tears fall in grief and in hopes of something else. Tears that recognize both the betrayal, denial, flight — our  own and others’ – and the steadfast love, courage, and magnanimity of the man on the cross.

Both sides of the human condition are front and center on Good Friday. So is the sense of god-forsakenness – the wrenching cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — the gnawing feeling of senselessness, meaninglessness, and helplessness, hanging alone, tortured and mocked, over the abyss of nothingness.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a healthy sense of denial is sometimes a good thing. So is truth-telling. Good Friday brings me face-to-face with myself at my worst and my best. And at the heart of it all is a man with arms spread wide, looking out at us who still crucify him — ours is a Good Friday world — with eyes that reach my soul. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

On Easter Mom would dab her eyes for joy because she’d brought her handkerchief with her from Good Friday.

— Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska. MN, April 14, 2017. Originally published April 3, 2015.

“Where’s Mom? I Need Mom!”

Barclay

Barclay

Barclay must have been begging for help during the night without a mother to hear his desperate pleas. Kay (Mom) has been out of town for a week.

When I approached his kennel this morning, there was an odor. But I thought to myself, that can’t be. Barq hasn’t had an accident in 18 months. His colitis is under control. I was just praising his habits to friends yesterday.

I opened the kennel door. Barclay rushed downstairs in a panic, leaving a trail behind him on the upstairs landing, down the flight of 18 steps, on the downstairs entry floor and carpet before I could get him outdoors Poor little guy.

So I’ve been cleaning up the mess, wiping the floors and soiled carpets, laundering his blankets, de-fumigating his kennel, bathing him, drying him, and brushing him out ever since. Barclay is resting comfortably now on the sofa while I go up and down the stairs wash doing the laundry.

On behalf of Barclay, I sent the following email to Kay, who this morning is with her six girlfriends at the retreat house in northeast Nebraska owned and operated by the Audubon Society.

He needs his mom badly. Bad mom! Bad mom!

“Where’s mom? I need mom!” he asks with those big brown eyes. “She’s in Nebraska with the birds,” I tell him. “Why is she in Nebraska, and what’s she doing with the birds? Does she like the birds more than me?” “No, Barq, she’s with her girlfriends at an Audubon sanctuary.” “What’s an Audubon? Is that like those fast highways they have in Germany? Is mom driving too fast? Will mom be safe driving?” “Yes, mom will be safe. She driving in a great big car today down to the Audubon river with her girlfriends.” “Car?! Ride in the car?!” “No, Barq, mom’s riding in the car with her girlfriends.” “Aw, Mom likes girls better than us? Why, dad, why? Is that why she wasn’t here last night to help me? Is that why you had to pick up my poop and pee – ‘cause it was a guy’s pee and poop? Is mom ever coming back? Are we alone here together, just the two of us, when only one of us can hear?” “No, mom loves you very much, Barq. No need to worry. She’s coming back on Monday. She’s driving back in her car….” “Car? Go for the ride in the car? Can we, Dad?” “Not right now, Barq, Dad has to continue to dry you out and comb you before we can do anything like that, and, besides, you’re not getting any breakfast this morning. Your stomach has to recover today.” “Mom would give me breakfast!!!” “No, she wouldn’t because you’re sick.” “I’m not a dick, Dad, I just don’t feel well. If mom thinks we’re both dicks and mom likes girls better than guys, do you think there’s a danger she might not come back, that she might stay with her girlfriends and the birds by the Autobahn?”

In short – we’re having a most exquisite Saturday morning.

– Gordon C. Stewart, lonely in Chaska, Minnesota, May 30, 2015.

Mom’s Handkerchief – Good Friday

As a child, I wondered why they called Good Friday ‘good’. It wasn’t. It was awful.

At the annual Good Friday service my mother’s cheeks were wet. She’d hold her handkerchief in one hand and, without drawing attention to herself — Mom was shy and shunned attention — she would dab the tears, hoping no one would notice.

A soloist would sing:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when the crucified my Lord? Oh……
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Mom would dab her cheeks and eyes.

As I grew older I began to understand why they called the Friday of the crucifixion ‘good’. It wasn’t good because they nailed him to the tree, or because they took him down and laid him in a borrowed tomb. It was good because, in that deep darkness, tears fall in grief and in hopes of something else. Tears that recognize both the betrayal, denial, flight — our  own and others’ – and the steadfast love, courage, and magnanimity of the man on the cross.

Both sides of the human condition are front and center on Good Friday. So is the sense of god-forsakenness – the wrenching cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) — the gnawing feeling of senselessness, meaninglessness, and helplessness, hanging alone, tortured and mocked, over the abyss of nothingness.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a healthy sense of denial is sometimes a good thing. So is truth-telling. Good Friday brings me face-to-face with myself at my worst and my best. And at the heart of it all is a man with arms spread wide, looking out at us who still crucify him — ours is a Good Friday world — with eyes that reach my soul. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

On Easter Mom would dab her eyes for joy because she’d brought her handkerchief with her from Good Friday.

— Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska. MN, April 3, 2015.

Home

they may not take you in
if you’re drunk again

even mom says get a rental
when you’re mental

dad thinks it’s funny
when you ask for money

The cleaners have a key to the lock
but you need to knock

your room has nice sheets
but you’re on the streets

You want to be cleaner
but have no shower

jobs ask for an address
but you’re homeless

– Verse by Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 2, 2014

Editor’s Note: Steve was prolific early this morning. “Home” is one of FOUR composed on his iPhone in the wee hours of the morning. He appears to have been sleepless in Urbana, without a job – he’s retired – but not homeless, showered, lying awake with his back to Nadja on clean sheets at the address they joyfully share with those in need.

Dad was bad today

Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) and bad Dad (homo sapiens)

Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) and bad Dad (homo sapiens)

The new puppy (3 pounds 8 ounces) was leaping from my arms, flying to the sidewalk before I knew what was happening. It happened so quickly. Barclay was still excited from meeting the children around the corner; he was not his customary docile self.

The plunge from my arms was terrifying. The yelping was blood-curdling. I thought for sure he had hit his head or broken a leg or suffered some internal injury. He crawled forward under the Blue Spruce for protection, still crying loudly. I fetched him from under the tree, held him close, apologized profusely – “I’m so sorry, little guy. I’m so sorry” – and carried him into the house, still traumatized and whimpering. He settled down in my arms while I checked his body for signs of damage. Finding none, I put him down to see how he would walk. His walk was slow but straight. He spent the rest of the day more quietly but was fine as the day wore on, returning to his playful self during late afternoon play time.

Barclay greeted Kay’s return from work with a wagging tail and kisses to her face, as if to say, “Dad was bad today, but I forgave him. I’m glad you’re home!”

How I didn’t become a Boy Scout

a cub scout recalls

1948
was just six years old
my mom led the pack
(and taught sunday school)
i earned a wolf badge
wore a uniform
of bright blue and gold

1953
would soon be 12 years old
could become a boy scout
first father-son camp-out
dad took navy blanket
folded: my sleeping bag
dad was an eagle scout
but also a baptist
no more scouting for me
when dads drank at campfire

– Steve Shoemaker, traveling in Portugal with Port, June 20, 2013

“Wait ’til Mom gets home!”

Over the Memorial Day Weekend, my only conversations are with Sebastian (Shih Tzu-Bichon Frise), and Maggie (Three quarters West Highland White Terrier and one-quarter Bichon Frise).

Maggie and Sebastian romping in the snow

Sebastian keeps asking, “Where’s Mom?”

“She’s gone to the cemetery.”

“NO!”

“Yes. She’s gone to TWO cemeteries!”

“NO!!!!”  “Not TWO.”

“Yes, two cemeteries.”

“No! Mom’s dead?”

“No… she’s gone to the cemeteries.”

“No. You’re pullin’ our tails…she can’t be buried in TWO cemeteries. Only ONE. We’re not stupid.”

“Okay,” I say. “You’re not stupid. You’re both very bright. Mom’s not been taken to the cemetery like you guys will be if you keep peeing on the rugs and on the corner of the new kitchen island …she’s not buried. She’s DRIVING to the cemeteries in the car.”

“DRIVING? In the CAR?”

“Yes…in DAD’S CAR.”

“We’re going for a ride In DAD’s car?”

“No,” I say. “Mom has Dad’s car. She’s gone to the cemeteries…in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s Memorial Day. Besides, no rides in Dad’s car until you stop peeing in the house.”

“Aw! That’s not fair. We want to go for a ride in the car…right NOW. Like you always say!  ‘Where the ____ is Mom?'”

“Bad dog, you’re not supposed to talk like that. Where’d you learn to talk like that?”

“Mom taught us. We love Mom more than you.”

“I don’t care. She’s not here!  I’m all you’ve got until Mom gets home.”

“Mom’s home?” They run to the door.

“Oh boy, oh boy, Mom’s home! Mom’s home!”

“No. She’s coming home tomorrow. Maybe, when she brings Dad’s car….”

“Dad’s car? Ride in the car?”

“No. You have to listen. When she gets back from the cemeteries, Dad will take you for a ride in the car…OR…if you keep peeing in the house, Mom will take you both for a ride… to the cemetery.

“No, no…not the cemetery!” shouts Maggie.

Sebastian saunters over to the island.

“You’re pullin’ our tails,” he says. “Mom wouldn’t take us to the cemetery.”

He looks right at me and lifts his leg: “You’re mean. Wait ’til Mom gets home!”

Sebastian and Maggie with Momoh Freeman