Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I have been looking at my life, checking my memories, and mentally giving thanks to various individuals who have been influential in my life. This personal glimpse of my memories, I hope, will inspire you, my readers, to reminisce about the important people or angels in your life.
The Gospel according to John starts: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Words, those precious elements that enable us to communicate, to think and remember, are the foods or substances for our education and growth. I have feasted throughout my life with the words of others, helping me to find my way along the perilous journey of life. Frederich Buechner in his book “The Sacred Journey” says, “Take out the album of your own life and search it for the people and places you have loved and learned from yourself, and for those moments in the past ó many of them half forgotten ó through which you glimpsed, however dimly and fleetingly, the sacredness of your own journey.”
This album of my sacred journey recognizes teachers, preachers, and family members.
I must start with my Great Aunt Jennie, who courageously started taking me to Richmond with her to visit her sister, my grandmother, when I was 5. Grandmother had five daughters living at home, and they played card games with me when they got home from work. How special I felt being with these seven women!
My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Wheeler, who taught me to read, lived around the corner from my house. The summer after my first grade, she invited me to come read books at her house. Reading has provided a lifetime of pleasure since those days.
Visiting cousins in Columbia, SC, I attended Sunday school with them at Trinity Episcopal Church. Part of the complex of this cathedral-like church was a gymnasium. Although I never played in this gym, I recognized that this church placed great importance on the wholesome growth of their youth. We, as children, were valued individuals.
My Aunt Nell took us to church every time the church doors opened and every night she presided over our kneeling and saying silent prayers. This started my love of the Episcopal church.
As a teenager, I attended the youth fellowship group at the First Presbyterian Church here in Salisbury. The most enjoyable and memorable part about these meetings was the happy, peppy songs we sang, such as “There’s a Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart” and “Brighten the Corner Where you are.” These are still favorite songs.
During my freshman year at Sweet Briar College, the Rev. Peter Marshall came to campus. He spoke in the Commons, a recreation room, not in the chapel. His address proclaimed that the work of the church was the work of ordinary men and women. In one of his prayers he said, “Bless every humble soul who, in these days of stress and strain, preaches sermons without words.”This theme was also addressed by the Rev. Moultrie Moore in a verse he made part of his ministry:
You are writing a gospel day by day,
By the deeds that you do,
By the words that you say.
Men read what you write
Whether faithless or true,
Say, “What is the Gospel according to you?”
After college, I joined St. Luke’s Episcopal Church where Mr. Moore was the rector. A couple of years later, he moved to Charlotte and years afterward, when I moved to Charlotte, I passed two other Episcopal churches to go to his.During my years in Charlotte, my next-door neighbors introduced me to camping, a way of life that normally I would not have considered. However, I thought, “If Lydia can do it, I can.”
In 1965, my husband and I acquired a tent trailer and set off for California with three children, ages 8, 10, and 12. Visiting the national parks was like visiting nature’s cathedrals. Over the years, we made many trips to national parks, breathing in their beauty, making it a part of our souls.
My delight in the splendor of our natural world was increased when I moved back to Salisbury and became a student in the world of art. My Aunt Helen, an artist, was undergoing cancer treatments. I took her to art classes several times and I became hooked. With new awareness of color, art techniques, even the beauty inherent in the grain of wood, I developed a passion for the pleasures of making and appreciating art.Back in Salisbury, I returned to St. Luke’s. With my daughters in the choir and my son as an acolyte, we were busy participants in the life of the church. When they left home for college, church ó but certainly not my spiritual life óbecame less important to me.
A new resurgence in my spiritual life came about when The Rev. Uly Gooch left St. Luke’s. I was saddened and felt he had been unfairly pushed out. This was my church and I would stand up and be counted. One of the supply ministers that followed made a lasting impression on me. He acted out the story of Simon Peter (who carried the cross for Jesus), using as his topic, “How do you carry your cross?”
This was very appropriate at the time as my husband and I had developed health problems. The pain of rheumatoid arthritis drove me to books on healing. Agnes Sanford introduced me to the concept of healing versus curing. I have not been cured. I still have this disease that has crippled my fingers and hands. But I have been healed of the negative feelings and mental aspects related to my rheumatoid arthritis.Continuing to look for relief from the arthritis, I was lucky to be involved with people who led me to the Community for Individuation, sponsored by the Charlotte Friends of Jung. This three-month experience, one day a week, started at 7 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m., with breaks in between. The marvelous mixture of people, The Reverend Bob Haden, an Episcopal priest, Mary Hunter Daly, a therapist who taught journaling, Judy Goldman, a poet and writer, two massage therapists, an artist óhow lucky I was to be able to participate in this study course. This time of discovery could be considered a major part of my spiritual and writing development. About this time, Mimi Parrott arranged for a group of us from St. Luke’s to go to Kanuga, an Episcopal retreat center, for a conference with Scott Peck. The opening words of Peck’s book “The Road Less Traveled” are “Life is difficult.” These words have comforted me and pushed me to accept rough spots on my life’s journey.I attended many conferences, having great experiences, but two stand out. After we both were widows, I went to Montreat with Lydia, my former Charlotte neighbor, to hear Frederich Buechner. Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and writer, wrote in his book, “The Sacred Journey”:
“Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us.” I heard the Catholic priest Henri Nouwen with Ginny Herring, another angel in my life. Nouwen came to Kanuga in March 1993. He was the pastor at L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, a home for disabled individuals. He had formerly been on the faculty at Notre Dame before becoming a professor at Yale Divinity School and later at Harvard.
Nouwen brought with him one of the nuns and a mentally disabled man named Bill. Bill was invited to speak at one of the sessions and he went up to the podium. However, once he was in front of the crowd, he froze. Nouwen came up to him, put his arm on Bill’s shoulder and Bill was able to speak. I watched Nouwen, an angel, comfort and support a friend.How many times has someone put an arm around your shoulder or arrived at just the perfect time with food, or just to be there with you? For almost 20 years, friends who asked me to join them at breakfast have put their arms around me. This group is a vital part of my life. Think about your sacred journey. I am sure you can remember many occasions when you were helped by family, a friend, or even a stranger. When I was living and working in Washington D.C., it started snowing one day and the government dismissed employees early. The normal route through Rock Creek Park was blocked so I was trying another way. Well, I got stuck on a hill. A man walking down the road asked if he could help. I said, “Could you put on my chains for me?” He did. I can’t recall just how he did it out in the snow but I was able to go up the hill and make it home. What an experience ó an angel helped me!
I have shared some of my memories of known angels in my life and concluded with an unknown angel. Search your memories, remember, recall, and revisit these long-ago persons who were angels in your life. Our sacred journey is enriched by these feelings of gratitude.