Memory Eternal

It was early, before sunrise, the morning of Wilbur’s funeral, and Grandma was awake, moving about in the kitchen, in her pajamas and bathrobe. She asked me if I wanted come coffee, and from a fresh pot already made, she poured me a cup. I sat at the kitchen table, and she joined me with her own cup of coffee. For the next hour, Grandma told me stories of how she and Grandpa had met, of barn dances, farm life, young romance and hard times.

It was just the two of us. As she talked, I entered with her the stories of her life with Grandpa. Although Grandpa had died more than a decade before, my own memories of Grandpa combined with the stories Grandma was telling.

A few months after that conversation, I found some genealogy documents about the Healy family, and there hidden away in the details of marriages, births, deaths, and hundreds of names of parents, siblings, children, out of nowhere a name leapt to my attention: Clifton Dwight. The name, Clifton, quite literally, appeared out of nowhere among all names listed in the genealogy. Next came Clifton Arthur. Finally, there was Grandpa: Clifton Fitzroy. I knew the rest. My dad was next. I had always been told I was the fifth Clifton. Grandma and Great Aunt Bessie were good to remind me of this all through my childhood. Here, in my thirties, I discovered that chain of names.

Shortly after my father died a year ago, I began to pray the memorial prayers for the dead. These prayers end with chanting, “Memory eternal.” It is a prayer. A plea not simply for everlasting renown, but for everlasting well-being.

Stories and memory, these are the things that make us persons. We do not know who we are apart from stories, the memories of our own lives, and those memories we inherit through story from our parents, our grandparents, our larger families. We do not merely remember events and feelings. We weave those memories together in a narrative. We are the stories we tell ourselves.

The Gospel does not come to us in propositions and syllogisms. It is not a summa, it is a story. Indeed, it is the Story. That is to say, it is the Story that transforms all stories. Our lives are the same group of events, the same set of dramatis personae, but now the plot has changed. In the muddled Middle, there is a twist, a surprise. We see our story differently. It is now part of a larger Story, a subplot that has been woven into the whole. Our memories are reordered. We see things differently.

It is not simply that our own personal stories are reordered and retold. It is that our own stories change. Our plots go in a new directions. We, and all who are ours, become stories in a larger whole. We become part of a community, a community who has its Story. The Story of the Church, the community brought into God himself, the Holy Trinity, by grace. A Story whose beginning stretches from the foundation of the world into a future we do not now see, and a way of everlasting well-being in which our memories, and our stories, will never fade.


One Year Later


Yesterday evening, I was able to drive to El Dorado, Kansas, to Sunset Lawns Cemetery, and Dad’s gravesite. I arrived just after sunset, as last light was fading in purple and indigo. Facing Dad’s headstone, I looked out to the west. To my left, the high-pitched hum of pipes and gauges and pumps of the refinery accompanied the rhythmic chirruping of crickets, underneath an undulating meson of a Kansas breeze.

It was important to me to be there on the anniversary of Dad’s passing. I wanted to mark the day praying the Trisagion at his gravesite. I wanted to share my heart, how much I missed him. To say again those words I said repeatedly a year ago as my family and I shared his final struggles: “I love you, Dad.” And, yes, to cry a little.

The grief is different a year later. A year ago, it was sharp and fresh and new, chaotic and disorienting. A year later it is still as painful, there are still as many tears which still come at the oddest moments. A year ago, the grief was ever-present, extended out over everything. A year later, it feels deeper, more settled. And a year later, in these recent days, it has been stirring deeper things.

A year ago, I was confronted with the previously unthinkable: the mortality of my father. I prayed desperate prayers for Dad’s healing, prayers that he would rise from his bed and remain a while longer with us. A year later, I am more deeply confronted with my own mortality.

What is this life that I am living? Certainly not the one I envisioned newly emerged from my college graduation. Goals and plans and dreams left undone, mouldering in the pile of the untried and undone. What legacy will be mine after my own departure? My daughters are barely on the way to their adult lives. What have I given them, what am I giving them, that can orient them and shape their hearts and minds such that they embrace beauty, goodness and truth? What have I left my fellow man in the way of love and service that will outlast and outlive me? Do I have anything to give? Even something as ephemeral as an essay, a book, a novel? What sort of son and brother am I? What mercies am I offering to family?

Though we now know Dad’s diagnosis was long in coming, the news for us was so sudden, and our final days with him so short. And yet, what grace we were given in that two and a half months. Maybe God can take such a life as mine, one so lately marked by constraints and struggle, and by that same grace turn it in to something.

These rough and undisciplined thoughts begin in politics, touch on art, but ultimately, I hope, plead for thoughtful engagement on persuasion to a more beautiful way of living. They have been catalyzed by the dismaying outcomes of the political processes of this election year. But they have been a realization that has been dawning for some time. Though I am going to attempt to be as charitable as I can in their expression, I doubt I can utterly diminish the deep frustration and irritation I feel at the state of the conservative movement and, relatedly, traditional, or small-o orthodox, conservative Christianity.

Continue Reading »

The End of the Forty Days

To everything there is a season, and the 40 days of daily memorial prayers for my father has come to an end. We will continue to remember Dad in our daily prayers, as we commemorate the departed by name, but the prayers reserved to accompany the departed from this life into the next will now become less frequent. We will pray them again in a little over four and a half months, and then annually. We will commemorate Dad on the memorial Saturdays which occur periodically throughout the year. But this special period of forty days has come to an end.

As much as these prayers are a comfort to the bereaved, it is nonetheless a good thing for us to rest from these labors. And make no mistake, dying, and grieving too I am learning, is labor.

Continue Reading »

This coming June will mark ten years since I wrote a series of blogposts looking at Christianity as a philosophia, a way of living, generally similar to the various ways of living as the various ancient “schools” of philosophy (Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and so on). I first had to deal with the modernist notions of philosophy as some academic subject limited to the classroom and dusty books no one reads. Rather, in the ancient world, philosophy was a way of understanding the world, and of living in light of that understanding. Stoics didn’t just believe certain propositional claims, but, rather, lived their daily lives in way that was unique to their belief-system. Indeed, in the ancient world, Sophists were generally despised because the were considered disingenuous, making certain claims for money, but not from conviction or from a way of life.

At the time, I had read, and clearly was strongly influenced by, Pierre Hadot’s work (his collection of essays Philosophia as a Way of Life and What is Ancient Philosophy?). Although, in contradistinction to Hadot, I don’t see Christianity (that is to say, ancient Christianity) as the catalyst for the demise of the connection between philosophical inquiry and a way of living.

Lately, I have been returning in my thoughts to the content of these essays and considering re-envisioning them, though on a somewhat larger scale. I would like to re-write them in a more wholistic project. I don’t know if that will happen, but I thought I would at least collect all the blogpost links in one convenient place for later reference. I would also like to revise certain comments and lines of thoughts. At the time, I was anticipating the birth of my younger daughter (and in fact, she was born prior to the completion of the last couple of blogposts (on marriage and fatherhood, and the concluding post), so these are grounded in that reality. My life has changed somewhat since then, so it may well be that I have other things to say ten years later.

Christians: Grammarians or Philosophers?
The Way: Christianity as Philosophia
Philosophia and the Modernist Myth of Objectivity
On the Earliest Christian Understanding of the Faith as Philosophia
The Transmission of Christian Philosophia
The Life That is Philosophia
True Philosophia: Christian Way of Life in Opposition to the Schools of Antiquity
Christianity as Philosophia versus Christianity as Grammatike
True Philosophia and the Offense of Christianity
Christianity as Philosophia and Modern Society
Christianity as Philosophia and Evangelization
Christianity as Philosophia and Thoughts on Marriage and Fatherhood
Christianity as Philosophia: Some Concluding Thoughts

It has officially been more than a year since I posted to my blog here. I suppose in the blogging world, that is pretty much a dead blog. But, zombie-like, here I am again one more time, thinking out loud on my keyboard.

Continue Reading »

For an evangelical Christian (and many other Protestants), and even perhaps a Roman Catholic to some degree, coming to the Orthodox Church, it can be somewhat jarring to encounter the emphasis on the bodily dimension of an Orthodox way of life. The worship involves the bodily senses in major ways: the bright colors of the icons, the gold on the vestments and the instruments of worship (cup, paten, censer, candelabra); the strange tonic system of the Byzantine chant which fills the hearing; the rich smells of the incense and interwoven with honeyed nuances of the beeswax candles; the taste of Holy Communion and of the antidoron; the feel of the one’s body, bowing, prostrating, making the sign of the cross, embracing fellow worshippers and one’s family, even how one’s body feels while others are moving around during the service and while one stands. An evangelical is used to much more sitting and listening, perhaps standing and joining in during the praise music part of the service. There may well be bright colors and images in visual presentations and posting of hymn lyrics, perhaps some candles. Roman Catholics (and Anglicans) will be used to some kneeling, and occasional use of incense as well as the images of crucifixes and statues and paintings of saints, perhaps a few icons. But among all these, the Orthodox experience is, if I may dare to say it this way, very sensual.

Continue Reading »