“Everything is connected, the past, the present, the future. It converges on the moment we happen to be living, wherever or whenever that moment is occurring.” I am quoting me. I just said it (thought it…now I said it, although no one was here to hear me do it so I can’t prove that). I have said stuff like this before. I am no where near smart enough to know that what I said is actually true.
I only know that I seem to experience life that way. It happened last night. Don’t raise expectations, it was nothing exciting to anyone but me. I sat down with the program for a concert by a choral ensemble (Kantorei in Kansas City) and I almost laughed out loud. I turned to a page toward the end that had bios on the featured Artists. There was a picture and a bio that looked as if I had written it. If it had been in German, I could have claimed to be the author.
Ten days ago, I took my German Final Exam at Washburn. It was very difficult and I was painfully stressed as I studied for it and realized (again) I was in way over my head. I struggled for two hours to write essays in German without dictionary or access to any resources other than my brain. All I had was what I had stuffed into my brain in the prior few days. My brain was quite rebellious when I was stuffing it. In fact, almost as fast as I stuffed, it upchucked. I have no idea where the upchucked information went. I am just grateful there was no cleanup needed. (It was German information. They are known for their cleanliness.)
The hardest essay to write was the one in response to the prompt that we write about a famous German of our choosing. We needed to prepare by gathering information about that person so that we could write the required minimum of fourteen sentences. (Have you ever seen a German sentence?) I made a tactical error. I picked a German poet named Rainer Maria Rilke and chose to write about his impact on the genre, his innovative style and the philosophical dimension of his work. I realized the specific nature of my error the night before the test as I tried to memorize the vocabulary and commit to memory the basic outline of the essay so that I would not forget at least in general terms what I had planned to write. The error: I had not written a bio of his life with an obvious chronological order to help anchor the material in my brain. There was not a logical this happened and then that happened. I entered the room fully aware of my mistake, hoping to find the material somewhere in my rebellious and now hopelessly stressed brain. The room was not quiet and I am easily distracted. After about an hour struggling to concentrate and reclaim any of what I had prepared, I asked to move to a quiet room and finish (barely) the exam. Last Wednesday I met with the Professor to find out how I did. She complemented me on my writing and went through the entire test with me. Surprisingly, I had done extremely well.
When I went to the concert last night, that experience was still glowing inside. Rainer Maria Rilke was the featured Artist whose bio in that program contained in English the very descriptions I had written in German ten days ago. That is where last night’s experience started. Then I began to realize how many bits and pieces of my life touched that moment and that place.
Among the singers was one who had studied for a time in Wellington, New Zealand. After the concert we had an animated conversation about our respective times in New Zealand. One of the singers had performed in a concert I attended a week ago. Others in their bios revealed connections with people and places that have been a part of my life.
The venue was St. Andrew’s Episcopal church in Kansas City. I had led a service of evening prayer for area Lutheran churches in that sanctuary around thirty-five years ago when we were learning services from a new hymnal. As I sat there last evening, I had flashbacks to that service and the people involved, many of them much respected, some now deceased. That was also the place where an AGO (American Guild of Organists) choir of which I was a member rehearsed. Thoughts of the choir members and the concerts joined me as I sat in that room awaiting the beginning of the concert. All of those times and those experiences and those people were with me in that room at that moment.
The choir sang a thoughtful poem filled with imagery from nature that Rilke had written during the years he wrote in French. The music was by a composer named Morten Lauridsen and was so beautiful as to stir feelings. During the last piece a new awareness sprung up in the freshly tilled ground of my feelings. The words were a poem by Wendell Berry called “The Peace of Wild Things.” Berry describes the struggles of life and his visits into places in nature where he finds peace. It was in that field of sprouting feelings that I remembered that where I was sitting at that moment in the Nave of St. Andrews is only blocks away from where Mary Ann and I spent fifteen years raising our children. It was there, on a phone call from a doctor’s office almost exactly thirty years ago that Mary Ann learned of the diagnosis of her Parkinson’s. I had been and was still in Oklahoma City at that time for six months starting my ministry there while she stayed with Lisa and Micah to finish out the school year. Lisa was graduating from high school and Micah from the Eighth Grade.
This is always a time of the year when Mary Ann is especially in our minds. Mothers’ Day and her May 15th birthday come together, along with remembering the last days before her death on June 14. In that moment awareness of the thirty years of life since then settled in. It was not distressing or even uncomfortable. The feelings were strong, but worthy of savoring as signs of love and a full life together. Even the grief has nourished the quality of life that has been growing in the last thirty years.
As I sit here at the table writing this, in front of me is the fused glass art piece Stacey made, the one that reminds me of the scene in Tobermory, Scotland that stirred me to contemplate the journey I am on from its roots to an unknown future. The piece is titled “Endless Horizons.”
The present, past and future all connected last evening. It contained them all. It is always so, in every moment, whether we happen to be looking for it or not.
After describing his retreats into nature among the wild things, Berry’s poem and the song conclude with these words: “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Thank you Pastor. Rilke is one of my favorites and we have visited Worpswede in north Germany where he spent some time with artist friends.