November 10, 2020
Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 7
Yesterday, I celebrated my 65th birthday. A lovely moment of reflection during pandemic. Texts pinged and calls rang throughout the day. Being seated with a friend for lunch and others for dinner helped me digest the reality of getting older and coming closer to being myself in the world. I am less a stranger to myself in my mid-sixties.
I strolled through our cemetery again, this time, not in person. In that soil lies a paradise of reflection, where my imagination sees the smiles, the intentions, the books written, the sermons preached, of my ancestors. That cemetery is a cave of mystery, that I know I need to enter, so that I may still walk on this earth knowing the relationships that have formed me. On this soil, hope springs up through the autumn oak leaves and the smell of winter approaching.
I first journeyed to Fr. John’s cement cross. He died at 64. High noon on Easter. He listened to me rant and rave for nearly nine years. He was so patient with me. Now, I wish, we could sit together. I would tell him that I have relaxed a bit in my own skin. I would shake his hand, even during a pandemic, and thank him for revealing to me the face of Jesus. I am calmer now. There is deeper prayer, a fearlessness, that resides in me now at 65, just past his earthly life.
I needed to rest at Fr. Jim’s grave. He was an artist. He was a man of few words. So, when he spoke, I listened as best as I could. When I was in the novitiate, the first class at Cascade, CO, a classmate and I created a banner for our makeshift chapel. Everything we needed there, we had to create. The first class paved the way. When we finished the banner, sewing together silks and linens and assorted colors from remnants for Lent and Easter, another priest stared at our creation.
The other priest said to us, “Who would waste their time doing something like that?” Well, my classmate and I were taken aback as we hung our creativity on the wall for prayer. The priest who bent our pride was a mountain climber.
Later, I told this story to Fr. Jim. He eased the tension in me with these words, “A man may climb a mountain because it is there. Another man creates art because it is not.” I have hung on to these words for over forty years. Those words have become a banner of love. I climb the mystery of my creativity because others before me dared to scale such a mountain. The creative paths inside are just as treacherous and are so often hidden. I rest my art in the lives of those who believed their art was from the creating efforts of God.
The mountains are outside my window in Colorado. However, a large charcoal drawing from Fr. Jim of a woman holding her son dying of AIDS, hangs in my living room. I am constantly walking into the unknown, the ways in which Jesus leads me. I so often think falsely that I am in control of my life. Life and art are lovely journeys.
Several years ago, Fr. Jim was in the first stages of dementia. One summer, he took me to his large, cluttered studio. We toured mountains of drawings, sculptures and unfinished works. As we unearthed tools, plans, and scraps of note paper in his messy cabinets, I purposely asked him questions to help him track the past. He pointed to the tools he used to create, to the works themselves, to proto-types and sketches, because his words were fleeting. He did not always have words to connect the art to his ideas or commissions or his hope that I would learn to scale such a mystery.
As I watch in my mind that story unfold again, I revere the sacredness of his art and his life. He invited me into unknown places of the soul. Those mountains need exploration. They need skill and attention. Most of all, life and art, are only revealed in prayer. Yesterday, on my birthday, I realized once again, that he passed on to me a desire to create with God, what is not.