Friday, February 27, 2009


Papou and Sophia

Yesterday, Papou moved back to his assisted-living facility. He’s doing better, much better, as he promised my mom, but it still feels scary and rushed. They’re continuing hospice care for him, and at any moment he could disappear. My sister and I talked about it, how it reinforces our feeling of immortality. All of our four grandparents still live. All eight of Sophia’s eight great-grandparents live. I know death was close this time, but it still feels like we can’t be touched by it. It hovers in the corner, still distant.

It feels miraculous, too. He decided he would get better, and he did. He wasn’t ready to die. I wonder why. A pastor friend from Pennsylvania came down to visit him while he was in the hospital, and we asked him how he prayed for parishioners in this situation. His answer was wise--he prayed that everything a person needed to accomplish be accomplished before they pass on. Papou must have something more to accomplish on this earth. I hope it’s sharing more of the memories from his childhood with me.

We were speaking of Papou’s past today, of how he spent his whole life in pursuit of the intellectual life. Does he regret that now? I think not. He was always a person utterly certain of his ideas. When I was a girl, I remember asking him questions about the Bible, while he wrote. Once I asked him about the role of women in Scripture, specifically the passage in First Timothy: “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

“Men were created first, then women,” he answered. That was it. End of story. Their role is less, because they came second. Incidentally, this is the very passage that caused me to cease believing in biblical inerrancy. I can’t believe that I will be saved by childbearing. There’s nothing wrong with having children, but my salvation does not lie in my ovaries and cervix. I cannot believe that that’s the Holy Creator God’s infallible word, his logos, for my life.

That’s what Papou believed, though. That’s what many evangelical Christians continue to believe. No wonder I have so much anger when it comes to biblical gender roles, to the prejudice that underlies so much of contemporary Christianity. That is not my faith. I draw my hermeneutical circle away from those lies. I believe the Apostle Paul when he says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” I am not a woman in the eyes of my God. I am a precious, saved child.

So Papou and I disagree on theology. It doesn’t make me love him any less. That’s the thing about beliefs. One believes them. It doesn’t help to have someone else tell you you shouldn’t, or that you’re wrong. A belief is too central, too close to the core of your being. Maybe Papou’s right, or maybe I am. Maybe both of us are wrong. But what I believe matters is that, as Jesus said, I love God with my whole heart, and love my neighbor as myself. That’s hard enough.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ready to unload

It’s the first day of Lent, and I’ve decided this year, instead of giving up something, I’m going to take on something. I’m going to spend these forty days thinking and writing about my faith. It’s a gauntlet my sister threw down, and I have some ambivalence about taking it up, but what can it hurt? I want to become a person of stronger faith, to allow my faith to take control of my life.

As with so many of those Christian cliches, though, I mean exactly those words, but I don’t mean what is commonly understood by those words. I want my faith to be real, to be the guiding force behind my life, but by that I mean faith in its largest possible sense: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. All of us live by faith. All of us shape our lives based on things unseen.

I’m more than a little afraid of the challenge. I’m afraid that I don’t have that much to say about my faith. I’m more afraid of putting what I believe in public, of what everyone will think. I’m not sure how many of my readers are Christians, and how many are atheists, and what kind of spectrum lies in between. Deep inside, I know it doesn’t matter. My faith is the most important thing in my life, and if I can’t be honest about it in public, what does that say about me?

My parents are missionaries, which means that they spend their lives actively living according to the dictates of their faith. More than that, they spend their lives trying to convince others of the truth of their faith. I don’t believe, anymore, in converting people to the truth of my faith, but that’s because that’s not what my faith encompasses. One thing I do believe, though, whole-heartedly, is in talking about faith. In talking about the things that lie under the surface of our everyday lives, the things around which we orient ourselves without even realizing it.

A subtle kiss that no one sees

Last November

My grandfather, my Papou, is dying. I suppose, in retrospect, we all knew it was inevitable. Maybe it’s why I’ve been blogging about him so frequently, maybe it’s why his history has been so much on my mind, why I keep trying to take and post feeble pictures of him. He’s in hospice right now, his 86-year-old kidneys failing.

I’m not sure he’s ready to go yet. My mother broke down crying by his bedside the other morning, and he looked up at her and asked her why she was crying. “Daddy, you’re really sick,” she said.

“I’ll get better,” he said, and patted her hand.

My other favorite story from these days is one from my grandmother. He sleeps all the time, waking up only when one of his kisses him. He recognizes us and smiles up, but he then his eyes close again. My grandmother asked him, “Do you dream when you sleep so much?”

He nodded.

“What do you dream about?”

“Salvation,” he said.

What a beautiful dream. I wonder what it looks like. This morning I knelt before a priest and had ashes spread on my forehead. “You are dust,” he said, “and to dust you shall return.” That’s a beautiful dream, too, on Ash Wednesday. All I am, all he is, is frail human flesh, imbued with the spark of the divine. I don’t know what salvation looks like. I definitely don’t believe that heaven is something out there, something that he’s going to go to, in the sense of a departure. Then again, I’m sure he has nothing to be afraid of. Wherever he’s going, it’s going to be home.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Walking through the door

After a three-week visit in the north country, I’m heading back south. I’m at Boston Logan right now, the late-afternoon sun slanting across my shoulders, with a three-hour wait for my flight. I definitely overestimated the time I needed to get through Boston on my bus. Still, one of the things I’ve always loved about travel is the waiting time in airports and train stations, the time that allows you to collect your thoughts, the waiting with no place to be other than here. That goes to show that I am a true traveler, not one of these dilettantes, and that long-distance travel is my true vocation. I’m never happier than when moving from one place to another.

The light here is different than in the south. Already, since seven o’clock this morning, I’ve traversed many lines of latitude and the sun is noticeably higher in the sky, even later in the afternoon. One forgets about these things in the south, how the light feels different farther north. It always cuts low, across the shoulders, unless it's July. My subconscious is continually aware of the angle of the sun, how my proximity to it is lessened.

There are other things one forgets. Like the preponderance of Subarus. I’ve been looking for a new car on eBay, and in Chattanooga there are an overwhelming quantity of crappy, American-made eight-cylinder SUVs. When everyone knows that the only car that’s worth anything is an AWD Subaru. In Maine you realize immediately how useless those god-awful vehicles are.

I miss the snow. It’s gone from the ground here, even as far north as Boston. I had forgotten that, too, the continual ice barrier that surrounds every road in Maine, the sheen and glisten of all of that whiteness. Yesterday, I went on my longest snowshoe yet--an hour and a half for almost two miles, with probably a half-mile of fresh path-cutting. I begin to understand how one could have 200 words for the stuff, as the Inuits are alleged to. Yesterday it was perfect for snowshoes, crispy on the top, but with enough heft underneath that I didn’t sink below my knees.

Shadow, the wolf-dog, and I had a long talk last night, but I’m not sure he understands my departure. How can he? I disappear and reappear in his life like a dream. Or a nightmare. Would he choose to have me in his life if he could? Even if he never sees me again? I don’t know. Maybe I need a dog of my own. One that can handle the tropics. Maybe I just need a direction in which to travel, someplace to go that when I get there I’ll know I’ve arrived. Maybe then I’d stop being only happy in waiting rooms.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Working for the next day

Snow drifts

I’m back in Aroostook County, Maine, at least temporarily. It still feels like home up here, although, unfortunately not mine. Four feet of snow lies on the ground and I’ve been snowshoeing every day for at least a mile with the wolf-dog who is about half-mine. There’s something about the snow that is both hopeful and melancholy, especially when one is floundering about in chest-deep drifts.

Still, snowshoeing may be my winter sport, I have discovered. It is exhilarating, and brutal, and hard enough work that I stay warm even when it’s eight degrees out. My broken trail is an arrow straight toward belonging, the crunchy snow like movie-set styrofoam. The worst part is that my wolf, after my all-too-many disappearances from the County, no longer trusts me. He keeps disappearing into the forest to chase moose. No amount of bologna brings him back to my side.

I’m sitting before the wood stove on the unfinished steps, my circa-seventies pot atop the rusted burner. It’s a remnant of my long-lost Chicago life, filled with a leftover combination of Thai curry and minestrone. The menu was not my choosing, but my chef insists on the delicacy of fusion cuisine. My butt is cold, but the rest of me is toasty. The sky is the palest blue, and water drips off the eaves. It’s been warm today, above freezing.

Jesus feels distant, even on Sunday. I have begun to resolve to accept God’s help unflindg my life, even as agnostic as my faith in God has become. I do accept His help, if He has any help to give, but my faith remains hesitant, nebulous. The hymn goes “turn your eyes upon Jesus,” but how? It all seems overly metaphorical. How can I turn my eyes towards something that’s not even there?