Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Pagan Intrusion into Hudson Memorial

I spend the whole service thinking of how to find Christ in the stale odor of unwashed body which is carried with each fresh breeze of air-conditioning into my nostrils. I fail. To my left is my feisty rein grandmother, who is unbothered by any and all ungenteel behavior, and sails through it like a swan. It is very easy to see Christ in her.

After the service, I left Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, at the small square in the brick wall, holding my grandfather's ashes which I call his grave. I walked out of my apartment in May, and into a twisting Victorian bedroom, which was the first of the strange nests I made home this summer. I walked out of a sure chapter, and into a mess.

There, on the rocking chair, a card of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots was left for me, the patron saint of transitions and liminality. Whenever the world feels uncertain, I find myself not calling to her, but she, rather, calling to me. In this slight card left. In the story of a friend.

This card seemed a fitting token and patron to leave at the grave of a forefather--someone who birthed my mother into this whole nonsense mess of a world, into the maze of relationships that is a family. To be born into this chaos of a cosmos is to enter a situation that is already complicated and your arrival only makes it more so. You arrive, a complication born unto complications.

Am I leaving this card, I wondered, as a sign of the virgin's intercession? Am I leaving it that she might untangle the knots of this man, whatever knots are in the afterlife? I think that might be more theologically mainline. But, if I'm being honest, my motivations were far more visceral. I left it not so much for the virgin's intercession for him, but because I wanted the man who brought me into this knotty life to help me untie the knots I'm currently wrestling with. I want the man who built the playhouse in our backyard, and taught me to throw tops and yo-yos properly, who helped me fish and shoot pool to help me sort through all the threads of possibility to find the next course to chart. I want what any of us want—the people we love and look up to, those who truly are our parents, to carry us through the stormy waters.

And perhaps I wanted something else as well. I wanted to tie my own knots to those that are my grandfather's. I want the knots which demand unraveling in prayer to be not just simply mine, but also his. I wanted to be tied to someone with whom death has severed ties.

On the sliding scale of paganism between the Temple of Apollo, Chartres, and Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church, Our Lady, Undoer of Knots certainly falls somewhere between Apollo and Chartres, and she brings a whiff of Romanism to this tidy memorial courtyard. I do feel slightly sheepish leaving her among the unbloodied crosses and the white roses which mark the other graves. But these people that I come from were never conventional, anyhow. Their strong Presbyterian roots may make them on the outside seem the opposite of pagan, but their love of land, large skies, and blue bonnets maybe led their wayward, least-Romantic daughter one day to a Roman Church.

The slender leaves of the Japanese maple tree brush my shoulder as I walk out to the parlor door. I realize that I have never noticed this tree before, and I have never felt its leaves before. I have only been in the courtyard in winter. But it's summer now.

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