Art allows us, through the eyes of another, to take another look at the world. We see a bit deeper, because someone shares a vision with us. Here’s a scene from one of my favorite writers, Alice McDermott. That you don’t know where it fits into her newest novel, Someone, won’t matter much. You’ll recognize the moment.
I held out my hand again—“It was nice seeing you, Walter”—and this time he took it. I said, “Let’s both keep poor Bill in our prayers.” Because if Walter Hartnett hadn’t loved me, he had surely loved Bill Corrigan, and loving Bill Corrigan had now broken his heart.
He shook his head. “More like him praying for us,” he said, “Bill’s retired from the game.”
I saw him grope for his breast pocket again as he walked away under the streetlights, weaving a bit. But it wasn’t the flask, it was the remembrance card he was after. Just before he rounded the corner, I saw how the light caught it, cupped in the palm of his hand (142).
My prayer books are full of them. Perhaps yours are too. Maybe life is about collecting enough of them until it’s our time to go, and leave nothing behind but our name on one of them.
A remembrance card is a beautiful picture with some scripture or prayer and the name of the deceased, which we can’t help but to ponder. An entire life reduced to a name, like the one soon to be carved in stone, but this one we keep with us. We pass it in our prayers and remember.
What we miss most, when we remember, isn’t the life the person lived. The life belonged to him or her, and we were only there for parts of it. We miss the conversation and the face. We pine for one more visit with a beloved voice, an unrepeatable personality.
Sometimes critics of the faith will speak of how profligate and irrational nature is, usually trying to debunk the idea that it could come from a loving God. Nature is so cruel, so wasteful, so relentless! What they’re trying to say is that we’re flotsam, soon enough washed away.
But our faith makes an even less rational, more profligate boast than the one about our spot in nature. We believe that God creates countless human souls—people who spoke of their dreams and their fears, their loves—and that not one of these souls, these speakers, is lost to God.
Nor are they lost within God. They remain those who can bespeak their own souls, and someday we will talk with them again. Indeed the Book of Revelation depicts them standing before the face of God, in a heavenly liturgy, singing praise.
After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb” (7:9-10).
There are only three parts to a Remembrance card: the face of Christ or a saint, a picture of what is to come; a prayer or a verse from scripture, telling us that we part of a larger tale; and a name, someone who can still be addressed, now in prayer, and, soon enough, again in the face.
We don’t know that all souls go to heaven. Some voices may be lost. There may be those who are damned, who are nothing more than
a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing (Macbeth V.v.24-25)
That may be the fate of the damned, but not the saints. They live. They speak. They stand before the throne of the Lamb and sing. And when nature, or fate, is spent, if we have been faithful, we will join that song. We will sing, and again converse with those we call the saints.
Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14 1 John 3: 1-3 Matthew 5: 1-12a