When the alarm sounds, I prefer raising the shades to turning on the lights. It’s gentler. In summer, sun floods the room. In winter, you open to a darkness, edged in rose, as my bedroom windows face the east.
The other morning I opened them and saw Brad Bressler, across the street, walking in Wolf Park. That didn’t surprise me. Brad walks by several times a day. On many a day, he may be the first, or the last, person whom I see.
This time, seeing Brad reminded me of his mother, Delores, who died back in 2005. You see, I’m pastoring in the town where I grew up. So, I’m doing a very strange thing, at least a thing I never thought that I would do, in a very familiar place. Brad is only a little younger than I am. I can remember Delores bringing him and his brother, Kirk, each week to church, what pew they sat in, what her winter coat looked like.
I’ve lived eight years of my life in Rome, 10 years in New York City, and so many other places. Why would I remember that? But it’s the nature of small town life. You remember, not just because you see the same faces in the same places, but also because each visage comes with a story, an identity.
I suspect that it was once like that in cities as well, because, as large as they were, cities were made up of neighborhoods, parishes, blocks. Before cars and freeways, one was surrounded by familiar faces, even in a city.
On this morning, I thought of what Delores had accomplished. Brad was born with a disabled arm and foot, which has kept him from working. He lives with his brother Kirk. Two bachelors, very different in temperament, yet they’re still together after all these years. Delores did that.
I wanted to know more. And, do you know how a man does that? He asks a woman, because one difference between most men and most women is that men notice what other people do, while women pay attention to their relationships.
Two years ago, I would have asked my mother. Now, I tend to take such a question to the first woman I see. I mean, of course, to the first woman whom I see and whom I know. I’m not trying to frighten folk. What she can tell me about so and so? Often, that’s Jamie, the parish secretary.
“Why don’t I remember a Mr. Bressler?” Why just Delores and the boys?
“You can ask Bernice Petz to be sure, because she and Delores were sisters. Rose Moos was their mother. Bernice told me that Wendell died when his boys were still tykes. Delores brought them home, and her mother helped her to raise them. She said that Brad can answer any sports question I could put to him. “
There is nothing extraordinary in this tale. It’s really only the story of a man, and a rather unobservant one at that, waking up one day and noticing a wonderful thing: a disabled man, living a full life, here in his hometown, because his mother taught him and his brother to care for each other. With the help of her mother Rose, Delores rescued her boys from the tragedy of their father’s death.
To learn of this, I had to ask women to tell me what other women did, or rather, who other women were. What their relationships, their loves, had accomplished.
We celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. It was the first Marian feast to enter the church’s calendar, and it’s always been in close orbit to Christmas. The church seemed, almost intuitively, to comprehend that to see the son was to meet the mother.
This year, set aside all of the dogmas and doctrines about Mary. They certainly do have their place, because they reveal the effect of the Incarnate Redeemer upon our humanity. But before Mary was the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of the church, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, she was the mother of Jesus. What does that mean to us?
We speak of Jesus coming from the womb of Mary. It’s very important, especially for men, to know the provenance of a child. But Christ didn’t just come from the physical womb of Mary, he came forth from the labyrinth of her love: her smile, her face, her voice, her caress, her memories, her faith and her habits. Everything that she was, formed who he became.
Jesus stands at the center of our history, without ever writing a word or leading an army. He is there because of who he is, and she stands with him because she, of all on earth, is most responsible for who he is.
Almost two years ago, a few weeks after my mother’s death, it was announced that I was coming home, to Ellinwood, Kan. I received a letter from Kirk Bressler. I thought it particularly kind and attentive of him. Most people wait until they see you before befriending you. Kirk wrote that my own parents would be so very proud to have me coming home.
I didn’t know what to make of that. I didn’t feel proud to be coming home. Why would they? But then, being a shallow man, how could I realize just how important relationships are? We are relationships. We are labyrinths of love.
Readings: Numbers 6: 22-27 Galatians 4: 4-7 Luke 2: 16-21