Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Developing Poem: Finding Meaning in My Nana

I only became aware this winter that you cannot bury people in Maine during the winter. It makes sense. If the ground isn't frozen, the snow covers the plots. So, when my nana fell asleep this winter, no service was held. Instead, the service was planned for this Saturday, to ensure those from far away could make plans to come.

I was asked if I would like to write something for the service. I wrote the following, but I don't find it appropriate for this sort of service. It expresses my love and mourning for her, but I figure these sorts of things are supposed to be more specific, focusing on certain aspects of her life, citing memories and stories. But I think in the abstract.

Instead of having this read, I will play my saxophone. I will play, "There's Just Something About That Name." I chose this song, because it always reminds me of her. When I first visited her in Arizona--maybe 10 years ago, now--I brought my flute. She asked me if I could play that song. I found out I could ... or I at least came close. Ever since, the song has reminded me of her.

I also think about her when I hear the song, "In My Heart There Rings a Melody," because she told me how my aunt Melody used to think that song was about her.

And without further ado, another thing I wrote concerning my nana, Shirley Mae Grant.


Within the past year or so, I wrote a poem. It isn't anything special as far as great poetry goes, but it has become very meaningful to me as I continue to work with it and as it continues to work with me. As many of you know, my nana wrote a lot of poems and songs. She always encouraged art and creativity, seeing it as the direct movement of God's Spirit. I thought it appropriate to share with you my poem and the meaning it has taken in light of my nana's life and death.

I wrote the poem completely in Latin, which was pretty tricky, since I don't know Latin. Let's read it and then take it word by word and line by line, discovering what this poem can mean for us now as we continue to mourn and celebrate Shirley Mae Grant.



Tenebrae means darkness. I added this word to the beginning of my poem this past Easter after being impressed by the word during a very traditional service at the church I attend in North Carolina. The service is called "tenebrae," because it consists of a symbolic, methodical extinguishing of candles. The service reminds us of the dark emotions associated with the death of Jesus, which helps us celebrate his resurrection.

Tenebrae reminisces of the darkness from all our sins and struggles, it conjures emotions for everyday losses and experiences with a traditional, church background to connote the darkness of mourning while holding us in the reverence of honoring the dead and anticipating resurrection with an anticipation held at bey by the darkness.

And so the lacrimosa sets in--tears. I discovered this word from Mozart's famous Requiem. A requiem, meaning rest, is a service for those who have fallen asleep and many composers set the service to music. One part of this song is entitled the Lacrimosa:

Tearful that day,
on which will rise from ashes
guilty man for judgment.
So have mercy, O Lord, on this man.
Compassionate Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

The tears shed in the darkness slide down our cheeks for God, creation, ourselves, and our losses. As our eyes cry tears, our lips cry "maranatha!", a word entreating our Lord to come and dwell with us in the midst of our problems.

But, just as when our Lord had come in Jesus, we, like him, experience requiem--the rest of death. Although I wrote the poem before my nana's death, I read our experience into it: in the darkness of Shirley's struggle, we shed tears, cried to see Jesus come in healing, but are now here because of her requiem.

And here the first stanza ends, because we have exposed a cycle of loss: the darkness, the tears, the praying, and the rest--resting in the loss of death or in the Sabbath of a prayer fulfilled.

If the requiem of that stanza is not your rest from this life, then the cycle will repeat from time to time. Eventually, your end will come and you will move on to the next stanza, which begins with echoes of the first, for it begins with the lacrimosa, that tearful day on which we will rise from the ashes and meet our compassionate Lord Jesus. Our tears, of course, will no longer be sad. And the cry from our lips will not be one uttered out of despair, but rather celebration. Maranatha is not always a prayer for God to come, but also an exclamation that our Lord has come.

And another cycle has completed, shorter than the first, but cycling perpetually throughout eternity. In order to suggest this ending without ending, I stepped outside of Latin and used a Hebrew word, but a Hebrew word that sounds more or less the same in Hebrew as it does in Latin and English.

So be it.


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