Saturday, March 10, 2012

Remembering with Gratitude: A Life Well-Lived

Abbot David Nicholas Geraets, OSB
March 4, 1935-March 2, 2012

Entered St. Benedict's Abbey, Benet Lake Wisconsin
Made monastic profession - September 1, 1957
Ordained to the priesthood - September 29, 1962
Baptized by the Holy Spirit - November 1967 and began 
ministry to the charismatic renewal.
Elected First Abbot of Pecos Monastery - April 11, 1973
Abbatial Service - 1973-1992
Conventual Prior in San Luis Obispo 1992-2012
I'm fumbling around for the right earrings.
Packing an overnight bag for a short trip.
My fingers trip and tangle,
the jewelry falls on the counter,
and I feel the tears behind my eyes.
Looking up into the mirror,
I ask myself:
"What does one wear to a wake?
To a Resurrection Mass for a priest,
an abbot,
a mentor,
a friend?
What do I wear?"

And the answer comes,
"Wear your heart."

And I pack it right up,
 lay it in the suitcase,
next to the small jewelry box,
the St. Benedict medal on its chain,
the clear colors he always noticed,
the small, ordinary pieces of an everyday life.

Because that's all I've got, isn't it?
This heart full of memories,
of words heard and received,
of sweet smiles and heartfelt prayers and gentle marks of the cross.
We drive north,
this drive we've taken together for almost two years now.
Ever since my health scare and hospitalization in May of 2010, my husband has chosen to make this trip with me each month. 
He takes long walks up and down the steep driveway of the monastery while I sit in the Holy Spirit House with the abbot.
We've both come to love this day-long venture together.

And I wonder as the wheels turn and the miles slide by,
will this be the last time?
 And I wonder,
is this really why we're going today?
To say good-bye?

We choose to stay overnight at the coast, 
15 minutes from the mortuary and the church.
A good, good choice for us ocean people.
Just walking on the bluffs in the warm wind, 
it blows courage into our souls.
We get there early,
the mortuary where the vigil will be held.
Because that, I learn, is what a monastic wake is all about.
It's a time for call and response singing and reading,
for sharing memories and stories,
for keeping vigil with one another
on the eve of the final good-bye.

A short, strong nun leads the sung part of our prayer time.
And she is gifted, so gifted.
Gracious, confident, calling us to join the song with the lifting of her arms. 
I relax into the music, letting the Spirit sink deep. 
The brothers read lines from St. Gregory about St. Benedict.
We sing the "Sucsipe" - the song sung by every Benedictine priest at the time of vows and renewal of vows:
"Receive me, O Lord, 
as you have promised
and I shall live.
Do not disappoint me in my hope." 

Can I just tell you how deeply
and strongly
my soul and spirit resonate with this kind of worship?
Simple melodies,
heartfelt words,
the ability to be silent without tension.
Too many churches in my life do not know how to do silence. At all.
These warmhearted, generous Catholic friends?
They know how.

And the next day, it is the same.
This time a formal Resurrection Mass,
complete with the presiding Bishop of the diocese and a trailing line of priests from all kinds of places,
sitting together, joining their voices throughout the litany.
"A motley crew," the bishop named them.
And they are that.
But I think perhaps these are a brave crew, too.
Standing and singing and praying together for a departed friend.

The same nun leads the singing, serving as cantor extraordinaire.
The scriptures are chosen from those David loved - 
the Shepherd's psalm
(which we sing and I am undone, just undone),
Habakkuk 3 - the vision will come...wait for it
Revelation 21 - behold, I make all things new...
John 3 - unless you be born from above...

And his friend and partner in work, 
Father Ray Roh preaches a magnificent memorial sermon.
I am blessed, grateful, aware that this was not an easy task to take.
Communion is moving, as it always is.
All stand, in prayer and attention, until each person is served.
And we sing, we sing.

New to this world of Catholic gatherings, 
we assumed a 2:00 service would be followed by a reception of desserts, to which we happily contributed a big bowl of beautiful fresh berries and some cookie bars.
Oh, no.
A full lunch spread - gorgeous and yummy looking.
Except, of course, we had eaten lunch.
So we watched and listened and felt the love vibrating throughout the Parish Hall.
And then we washed out our bowl,
loaded the car
and headed home.

Encouraged, exhausted, fed.
Grateful, grieving, content in a strange and satisfying way.
 We are left marveling that we 
never knew such richness existed in this Catholic space,
that we were so narrow in our view of life, 
of worship,
of God.
And the simple, haunting melody of that psalm,
that's what we each remembered,
that's what we continue to draw on.

Here is a YouTube version of Marty Haugen's beautiful liturgical rendition of Psalm 23.
The response comes first - to teach the congregation.
Then the verses, followed by the response each time. 
Watch, savor, listen, SING:

 All I can say,
all I can sing,
all I can pray is  

We're heading out of town for a while in the morning. I hope to have a chance to link this with Michelle at "Graceful" and with Jen at "Finding Heaven." But I'll publish it now and link to it on Facebook in case I can't find reliable internet service while we're away.
Thanks to so many of you for your kind words, your support and encouragement and your prayers. Oh, most definitely, your prayers. 
I also tagged onto both Laura's this week - Barkat at "Seedlings in Stone," and Boggess at "The Wellspring," and at Ann Voskamp's Wednesday round-up. And today, I'll tag in at Bonnie's place as she's taking six weeks off to finish her book! And at "Journey to Ephiphany," who has so kindly taken on Emily Weirenga's weekly log-in:”JourneyTowardsEpiphany”