Bless You and Amen

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The view of the dome of Westminster Church Minneapolis from where my Mom and I always sat together

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

Martin Luther

Grandeur

by T. A. Fry 

Beneath the vast white dome of Westminster,
While bathed in the blue light of Christ the King.
There awaits a hoard of regal treasure
For my beloved when the choir sings.
It’s not the crown jewels set within the Rose
or music’s grandeur from the massive organ.
Nor found in prayers the clergy propose
Should you attend on a Sunday morn’in.
I’ve magically endowed a gold home-fort
to dwell in the hearts of those I love.
For when you need a touch of comfort,
“Ere I’m silent in the loft above.
Shushhhh…. listen, to all this morning’s hymns.
They’re singing; “I love you. Bless you and amen.”

November 2015


I wrote recently about my muse, but I should distinguish between when the muse visits and a writing prompt.   One of the reasons I attend church at Westminster is that often I come away from the service with a writing prompt; something said during the service gives me an idea for a poem.  Sometimes it is a singular word that will set the creative process in motion, sometimes it is an entire line of poetry, and I’ll jot it down in the margin of my bulletin.

I’m not sure who said it first, but one of my favorite sayings about the experience of attending Westminster is “bring your brain to church.” For me that means being fully present and open to ideas.  When my muse visits, the ideas are fully formed and my fingers are propelled as if by an unseen force writing the poem for me.  Oh Darkest Night was written by my Muse.  Grandeur was written by me based on one line that formed in my head during a service, “Beneath the vast white dome of Westminster.” Then it was a matter of sitting down and figuring out the rest.

The Sunday I wrote Grandeur, in the fall before my Mother passed, Liz gave me a history lesson on the gorgeous windows called Christ the King and the Tiffany styled window called the Rose.   The Rose stylistically does not fit with the rest of the windows in the main sanctuary and I had asked Liz about it.  She gave me a 15 minute history lesson about Westminster. The original church was built several blocks north, and was largely destroyed in a fire. The patrons of this church were several of the families from the mill district and the retail barons that the wealth of the milling district in Minneapolis fostered.  One of those families, who founded Daytons department stores, which went on to become Target Corporation, were generous in their contributions to the design and construction of the current building in 1898.  The Rose window was a gift from one of the families. and was built by a company separate from the rest of the windows in the sanctuary.

The design of the church was radical at the time it was built, with its oval shaped sanctuary and the choir and organ situated in the front behind the pulpit.  It moved away from the traditional long narrow design of most churches and made a statement about inclusiveness. The Westminster of today is a far more liberal, progressive congregation than its past. Liz had a hand in moving Westminster on its journey of inclusion and equality and equity. Liz paved a path in the broader Presbyterian church to break down barriers of gender inequality, some overt, some subtle, some just bald headed stupid tradition, that prevented woman from certain roles in the church. Liz and many other women through their intelligent example and wise patience and brave voices have readied Westminster to eventually break through the glass ceiling for its first female lead pastor in the near future.

Grandeur came about on that Sunday afternoon.   I went home that November day and it did not take long to come up with a first draft and within a couple of days the final version took shape.  It was a gift to my Mother and in a way Liz, and I read it to them the following Sunday after the service.  It is a postcard of those many Sundays that I wanted to hold on to, that feeling of togetherness, knowing I would be able to tap into those memories, those feelings when my Mother and Liz would no longer be by my side in our spot in the back of the church where there was a cut out that accommodated Liz’s wheel chair.

Westminster is a sacred place for me.  I can feel my Mother’s presence some Sundays seated in the pew.   I can feel her wisdom and kindness and generous spirit encouraging me onward, to be my better self, knowing that love she had/has for me continues onward, unabated.

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Westminster Church in Minneapolis with the south facing Christ The King window and the west facing towards the street Rose window visible in this picture.
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Christ the King
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The Rose
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The view of the front of the  sanctuary from our regular spot.

 

 

 

Comfort, Console and Bless and Safely Bring

 

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Reverend Elizabeth Heller (1926 – 2019)

Better to light one candle, than to curse the darkness.

Reverend Elizabeth Heller

Godspeed

by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892)

Outbound, your bark awaits you. Were I one
Whose prayer availeth much, my wish should be
Your favoring trad-wind and consenting sea.
By sail or steed was never love outrun,
And, here or there, love follows her in whom
All graces and sweet charities unite,
he old Greek beauty set in holier light;
And her for whom New England’s byways bloom,
Who walks among us welcome as the Spring,
Calling up blossoms where her light feet stray.
God keep you both, make beautiful your way,
Comfort, console, and bless; and safely bring,
Ere yet I make upon a vaster sea
The unreturning voyage, my friends to me.


When I originally scheduled this post, my friend Liz Heller was still patiently waiting for death to take her on the unreturning journey.  But I edited the original, as blessed comfort finally arrived and Liz, cradled in her faith, surrounded by love of family and friends, passed in the early evening of July 27, 2019.

My friendship with Liz goes back to 1979, when my Mother and I worked for three summers at a Presbyterian Church Camp called Clearwater Forest.  Those were special summers, brilliant in my memory.  Liz would attend several weeks each summer, once during creative arts week and generally with a youth group or weekend programming as well. She and my Mother became good friends  and that friendship spilled over to me.

When it came time to get married there was no hesitation on where that service would be or who would perform the ceremony; Liz Heller at Westminster Church in Minneapolis in their chapel. My wife and I attended several marriage counseling sessions with Liz, despite having lived together for almost 8 years, and Liz sense of humor and wisdom left a lasting impression. Our friendship would re-engage 20 years later when my Mother returned to Minneapolis for the final four years of her life and she and I and Liz, along with several other friends, would sit together each week at Westminster. The best part of the service being the lively conversation following, catching up and asking each other questions.

Liz lit a lot of candles in and for people over the years.  She certainly lit one in me as I began my journey into poetry.  I can remember reciting Oh Darkest Night the week I wrote it and after that she would ask me, “have you written anything this week?” and if the answer was yes, ask me to read it to her.  Liz often gave me feedback on my writing, sharing the connections my poetry created in her mind.  She shared deep and illuminating insights that challenged me to go back and edit drafts, her nudging my writing in thoughtful ways.

My Mother and I were helping Liz transition from her long time condo near Westminster church in Minneapolis to an assisted living facility the day before my Mother died. Our role in the process relatively small, packing and shipping boxes, sorting through files under Liz watchful gaze and helping get things to their new rightful home.  I went to visit Liz days after my Mother died and we shared tears, memories and our grief.

Although Liz could no longer attend worship services on a regular basis the past 3 years, I kept in touch by going to visit.  I would bring coffee and poetry.  I always brought two or three poems by other authors and one or two of my own.  We would read them and talk about them and usually it would spark a memory and it would launch Liz into a wonderful story from her amazing life.  I remember when I read a Maya Angelou poem once and Liz told me the story of when she met Maya, for a Westminster Town Hall Forum, and Liz had brought her calla lilies from her garden and the two of them had the most wonderful conversation.

Liz is one of four people I gave a copy of a very rough draft of my first chap book and as further revisions evolved over the past 3 years, I always would share the most recent version.  I have in the past three weeks, added the final two poems to the chap book, both based on experiences with Liz in her final spring.  I know never to say that something is final with my writing, because I am endlessly revising, but two weeks ago when I visited Liz, and she was asleep and unresponsive, I read her the entire Canticle from start to finish and it felt complete, it felt like it says what I want it to say.  Liz’s passing may crystallize in my mind that this project is finally finished and its time to stop writing and time to figure out what I might do with it.

Liz’s sharp mind, strong faith, curiosity and gentle humor were present right up to the end, though her body had long since failed her, confined to a wheel chair and reliant on others, her twinkle in her eye never dimmed, nor her vital gratitude. Liz has been my primary spiritual leader for a long time, an inspiration on how to live a good life and a generous friend.  Fortunately, her friendship has expanded my circle so that her flame burns brightly in others, a light that will continue to shine in the darkness.

Thank you Liz for a sharing a life well lived.  Thank you for being my friend, critic, mentor and fellow story teller.   I will keep your memory alive, your memory a blessing in my life.  I will  miss you.


Praise for Faith

by William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

Of all the gifts Thine hand bestows,
Thou Giver of all good!
Not heaven itself a richer knows
Than my Redeemer’s blood.

Faith too, the blood-receiving grace,
From the same hand we gain;
Else, sweetly as it suits our case,
That gift had been in vain.

Till Thou Thy teaching power apply,
Our hearts refuse to see,
And weak, as a distemper’d eye,
Shut out the view of Thee.

Blind to the merits of Thy Son,
What misery we endure!
Yet fly that Hand from which alone
We could expect a cure.

We praise Thee, and would praise Thee more,
To Thee our all we owe:
The precious Saviour, and the power
That makes Him precious too.