Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Five: Seasonal Edition

Friday 5: Seasons Change

I'm recovering from my morning painting the commuter lounge in seminary by doing the Friday Five. The questions are brought to us from RevGalBlogPals by Reverendmother.

1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!)

Driving through Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado with PH.

2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not?

Two reasons: CPE is done, and as much as I loved it, it was exhausting. School is starting again, and I really missed it. (Remind me of this when I start complaining about the workload in a couple of months.)

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall.

My classes and beginning Field Ed with a great supervisor. Restarting choir is next on the list.

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach)

Doing a de-cluttering of last season's school stuff (see below). Buying another batch of books for classes.

5. I'll know that fall is really here when we take out the sweaters and the Danskos and put away the t-shirts and the crocs.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


In a vain attempt to get organized before school starts next week, I performed massive paper-pile dissection and shredding today. I haven't gotten to the bookshelves yet to sort the tomes, but I think it's time for a break. There is now room in my file drawer for all my papers for this semester's classes, the desk is down to a small, manageable pile of stuff to finish off (much wood now shows), and I found a few things I'd long ago forgotten about.

Back when I worked in an office downtown in Gucci Gulch, all my business and personal paperwork was better organized. More file drawers, more time in the day to sort such things. Part of this big purge of paper is to keep the home office (which I share with PH) a bit neater, part of it is being able to find the things I need quickly, but another part of it is stripping down to the essentials. I have a tendency to accumulate random interesting pieces of paper, and then they get lost in the morass of my office. It feels good to toss a bunch of useless stuff.

One thing I've learned from PH, though, is to save the things related to sermon ideas by Scripture passage, so when the passage comes up in the lectionary, I can easily find the ideas or poems or stories efficiently. I also am now saving my sermons organized by Scripture passage as well. If anyone else has any bright ideas about taming the paper beast (yes, RM, I'm looking at the David Allen book), please share!

Of course, two weeks into the new school year, the pile may once again overwhelm me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


...for everything and nothing, for all the little things and a few really big things.

We middlers did an orientation session for the incoming class. They've been in intensive biblical language classes for three weeks and look shell-shocked. I remember that feeling well. I am very glad to be past that point in my seminary life, so I'm grateful for a year under my belt.

I went for a haircut today with the incomparable Lucien, who always says I look beautiful in his wonderful Parisian accent, and has forgiven me for no longer dying my hair. He also is giving me a student discount while I'm in seminary, and when we're done with the haircut, he gives me a hug and says "I'm so proud of you!" I'm grateful for people who have supported me in this journey in all sorts of ways.

Before I went for the haircut, I had a little time to kill, so I went into Balducci's, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine of the food world. Much to my pleasure, I found they had two jars of the Tiptree "Little Scarlet" strawberry jam. This jam is made in very limited quantities (see this article about its scarcity: ) and is sublime. I'm grateful I not only found it, but I could afford this little luxury.

Earlier in the afternoon, I spent a few hours in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching looking at curricula for my teens at my Field Ed site, now known as Saint Middle School, in honor of the place where it meets. I found an awesome one (Generation Why?)and I'm hoping our vicar will okay it. I'm grateful that I didn't have to create one from scratch, and that I found one that doesn't sound like it was written in 1908.

I was exhausted when I got home - the downside of MS in hot weather - so I stretched out on the couch and took a nap. Grateful for the couch, the air-conditioning and the roof over my head.

I got up and made supper and afterward, PH took me out for a little dish of frozen custard. ( As grateful as I was for good dinner and the sublime custard, I was most grateful for PH, who not only bought us a new garbage can today (odd things please me, I know) but took me for the custard without saying, "Gee, I thought you were on a diet...", knowing that I really, really needed a dish of frozen custard this evening.

God is good.

Monday, August 27, 2007


A great heart sometimes suffers great pain. You asked me why you feel so deeply. I don't know. All I know is that you have a great heart. Don't shut it down so you don't feel the pain. It is too important to feel deeply.

You have many gifts. You will figure this problem out. One foot in front of the other, slowly. It will not feel good, but it will feel better than no feeling at all, than things remaining the same.

I wish I could hug away the pain and kiss away the doubts, and make a list of things for you to do to get past this time.

I can't. You must write your own list, and heal your own pain. You must love yourself and do what is right for yourself, in your own time.

I love you. God loves you. All will (eventually) be well.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Random Dots of Sunday

  • I finally got around to cleaning off my desk this afternoon. It was covered with detritus (receipts, thing needing filing, catalogs, assorted nonsense) from last semester and from CPE. I can now see wood. We shall see how long this lasts. I usually do my studying and other schoolwork on the living room sofa, anyway, but it's nice that for a little while, my desk looks almost as neat as PH's, with which it shares a room. I still have the computer and such from the bank work, (I'm a lobbyist for a large bank on a part-time basis) and when that work ends in mid-December (hallelujah!), the bank computer and monitor and printer goes away, making considerably more room. Room, of course, for me to collect more detritus. So it goes.

  • PH is helping one of his buddies - the one who did yeoman work helping us finish our basement last summer - tear off an exterior wall to his house. Don't ask. You know there are some men who love these big projects, despite the fact that they can afford to have a pro do the work much more efficiently, because they want to say they did it themselves, truly believe they do a better job than the pros, want to save a few bucks, and love the excuse to go buy stuff at the Big Box Home Improvement Store. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, but since it's quite hot here in Your Nation's Capital, I'd much prefer to sit inside the air-conditioned house and knit. My vices are limited to the yarn store and the discount shoe place these days, anyway.

  • I finished the Elizabeth Zimmerman Baby Surprise Jacket for grandbaby Ben (whom I will see next weekend) along with a matching hat. I used a self-striping sock yarn, so it's varying stripes of light and dark blue. Very cool. Hopefully, the weather will cool down so he can wear it before he outgrows it. I'm working on a white cable sweater for my classmate C's baby (he and R are expecting the little one in two weeks); it probably won't be done in time, but I think they won't mind. Feels good to be doing stuff with my hands.

  • I'll be going to Morning Prayer every morning this week to get back into the schedule of the seminary, although classes don't start for another week. I love going to Morning Prayer. The week has filled up with all sorts of appointments and meetings. Debating whether to get the bifocal contact lenses, or just to get an updated prescription for bifocal eyeglasses. I much prefer how I look without glasses, but my wallet prefers glasses to contacts. Ah, well.

  • My dear in-laws are contributing to my Stole Fund as their birthday gift to me - when I graduate, I will need liturgical stoles. A lovely gift, and one that I will really use and not feel guilty about.

  • Okay, here's the recipe of the day. In this part of the world, we have many Central American immigrants, and their food is fantastic. There are all these rotisserie chicken joints, and the chicken is awesome. It's marinated in lime juice, garlic, and lots of pepper, then rotisseried. We don't have a rotisserie, but we figured it would grill well. I had picked up a couple of bone-in organic chicken breasts on sale, put them in a ziplock bag with freshly squeezed lime juice, some chopped garlic - all right, a lot of chopped garlic - and mucho pepper, as well as some olive oil. Let them marinate for about 90 minutes. PH fired up the grill, threw some salt on them, and grilled them until done. I wish I had doubled the recipe, because these babies were tasty - I would have loved the leftovers. I'm trying that recipe again, maybe throwing in a little Spanish smoked paprika next time. Yum.

  • This will be my year to have all the family at my house for Thanksgiving. I'm trying to figure out how that will work with Field Ed etc. I guess (gulp!) I'll have to ask for help from the family instead of doing it all myself. What a radical concept!

  • I'm calling the chaplain at nearby Big Hospital to ask to do some PRN chaplain work this year (yes, in my vast spare time) so I can earn a few dollars and get more experience with adults, after a summer with kids. This chaplain is the ex-spouse of one of my supervisors at the children's hospital where I worked all summer. Small world.

  • The beef stew is ready, so I think I'll wander off. Tonight's a new Inspector Lynley Mystery on PBS. Life is good.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Small World...Biblical Hebrew Joke

So we were having dinner with friends. Among the guests were a female pastor and an American missionary from Congo, where PH grew up. He, of course, can speak French and Lingala, the trade language of the region, and could converse with the female pastor, who spoke some English but was more comfortable in Lingala and French. I could understand most of the French, but my spoken French is pretty rusty. She found out I had studied Hebrew in seminary, and said (in Lingala) that she had studied Hebrew in seminary in Kinshasa, but couldn't say she was really good at it. She then looked across the table, this delightful woman whom I had barely understood up until that point, stared me in the eyes, and said...

"Dagesh Forte!"

At the risk of making a funny moment unfunny by explaining it, this is a doubling of a Hebrew letter to make it stronger. In English-speaking Hebrew classes, we call it strong dagesh. She told me it was the only thing she remembered from her Hebrew studies.

We both burst out laughing hysterically, the only ones (besides PH) who got it.

Never thought I'd be referencing Biblical Hebrew with a Francophone Congolese woman pastor in our Nation's Capital.

It is a small world, indeed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Few Pictures...

Moi and StrongOpinions at her place.

At 12,000 feet. Note I'm looking at the camera, not the view. That's a little too high up for me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home Again

We're back home. The last leg of our flight was delayed, so we ended up not getting home until 1 am or something. It was good to be home with the cats and our own bed.

It was a great trip. We spent a few days with StrongOpinions, saw the house she's sharing with roommates, got her some cooking tools as a housewarming present, and wandered around Boulder. Got to visit with a seminary classmate who's curate of a church out there as well - so much fun to see him and hear of his experiences. On Monday we drove up to the Rocky Mountain National Park and went through the park, including a stop just before crossing the Continental Divide at the Alpine Visitor's Center, above 12,000 feet. I didn't have altitude sickness, but for someone who has a fear of heights, some of the views were a little hard for me to take. No matter. I just closed my eyes for the hard parts.

We also got to spend some time with PH's aunt and uncle and cousins, the Ds. Such delightful people! Among these folks are the ones who helped StrongOpinions and me when she was hospitalized out there with suspected bacterial meningitis in May (my mother's day celebration). Good to see them in less stressful circumstances.

It was good to be away - it took me a day and a half to stop talking about CPE stuff and start talking about the coming semester in seminary!

Yes there are pictures, and I will post them soon, but right now I've got to plan my next trip, to go up to New England over Labor Day and see my new grandson.

Friday, August 17, 2007


CPE is over - we graduated today. I had a final go-round with the prickly person in our group in our last IPR, and, mirabile dictu, the supervisor told her she was transferring her unresolved stuff on me. This was something I had been trying to get her to for several weeks, and the supervisor had just stepped back to see if she would get it, and if I could lay it out clearly enough, and finally she realized that the prickly one wouldn't listen to it from me. It is a relief to have been backed up.

I got a chance to say goodbye to staff and patients that I had developed relationships with.

My neck feels way too light, without my ID and pager, though. This being done will take some getting used to. Eleven very difficult and wonderful weeks of my life. Three baptisms, five deaths, two commendations, a funeral, innumerable Kleenexes (for me and for parents), deep conversations with nurses, witnessing open heart surgery, developing working relationships with so many new people.

We leave early tomorrow to go out to see StrongOpinions and PH's relatives in MileHigh City. Tonight PH is taking me out for a belated fancy birthday-end of CPE dinner. I couldn't have survived this without him, bless him.

Champagne, anyone?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One Day to Go

We survived final evaluations. The prickly person was predictably prickly and somewhat condescending to me. Everyone else was supportive, complimentary and kind. We also did an exit interview with a team of senior people, mostly about what could be done to improve the program.

I spent time with the AIDS patient and also visited the CICU, and the babies there. I feel like I've done a good job of saying goodbye. I've been touched by the warm thanks from patients and staff alike.

Tomorrow feels anticlimactic, with one more IPR, a play session, lunch, and "graduation".

Tomorrow I'll go around and say goodbye to a few folks I didn't see today, but I'll be glad to turn in the pager and the keys and the magnetic ID.

I'm so done.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Full Heart

...and my 15 year old AIDS patient has taken a turn for the worse and is categorized as end-stage. I feel like I'm abandoning her, ending CPE right now. Another difficult learning.

The chocolate cake was good, though.


My dear friend M died early this morning. She had pancreatic cancer; it had only been diagnosed a few months ago. She was 57.

She taught me many things:
  • it is alright to question authority
  • passion is a gift, not a dysfunction
  • family matters
  • the phos is hilaron.
She was a stalwart of our icon-writing class, and was the person who got me started on this wonderful spiritual practice. She also was the personification of hospitality. We had many wonderful dinners with her and her husband. She was my spine at a time when I needed it.

I will miss her deeply. I suspect that as I write this, she is asking Saint Paul, "So what did you really mean about women not speaking in church?"

Rest lightly in the arms of the Lord, M, you deserve the rest. Have a glass of Chateuneuf du Pape for me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Random Dots of CPE: Three Days Left

  • I did my final verbatim today. Not bad, not good, just glad it got done.
  • Baking a chocolate cake for the IPR tomorrow - maybe it will sweeten us all up a bit. It's a birthday cake to myself that everyone else gets the benefit of.
  • Tomorrow will be the last formal day of clinical visitations, plus a reading seminar and IPR. I will miss a couple of patients that I've worked with for almost the whole time I've been here.
  • I do have a new patient who is an infant who is missing the bones in her thumb. A strange sensation, holding the hand of a baby whose thumb just sort of flops every which way. Sadly, the thumb problem is probably indicative of a genetic syndrome that may mean more problems than the heart defect we are looking at. Cute baby - tough outcome most likely.
  • Thursday will be final evaluations and the exit interviews with the committee, with Friday IPR and graduation, followed by a lunch. Our IPRs have been something of a bust, compared to the fireworks in other friends' IPRs. We have only had a few major blow-ups, only a couple of tense moments. This group just didn't seem to have it in them to fight much. There was one person with whom I didn't get along, but we came to a rapprochement of sorts. Not stuffing things down, just dealing with each other's differences reasonably respectfully. I'm not really sure that it was necessary for our group to have that kind of intense disagreement - or maybe the supervisor chose us as people who probably wouldn't fight much. Hard to say.
  • I'm tired. I've got all this CPE stuff wrapping up, a son in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy, a dear friend with end-stage pancreatic cancer, and not enough time to process it all. Meh. At least the chocolate cake will be good.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Prayers, please...

...for Litigator, who had an emergency appendectomy this morning. I was ever so tempted to hop on a plane to go to City of Angels and be with him, but he is 23 and wants to prove that he is an ADULT, don'tcha know, so he doesn't want 'rents around. He will be coming home from the hospital tomorrow, and it just so happens that Stepson #1 will be in LA tomorrow on business, and will just so happen to check on him.

Not that we're being overly parental or anything...

Sometimes this empty nest thing is a challenge.


New Toy

My birthday present from PH was an IPod. I am happily downloading some of my favorite podcasts and CDs. Hopefully, I won't break it within the first week of use. I'm also looking forward to using it for audiobooks. Bliss!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Random Dots of Saturday

  • Tomorrow is my birthday. I will have to adjust to the idea of telling people I'm 55. In honor of the day, I went to the nail salon and got a manicure, pedicure, and brow wax. I feel very soigne.

  • I ran a number of errands, including the weekly weigh-in (down 1.6 pounds) and the farmer's market (tomatoes! zucchini! peaches! ginger gold apples - the first of the season! homemade ravioli!). Our farmer's market is the oldest continuously running farmer's market in the nation. It has not only food items of every variety, but also flowers and some beautiful crafts. I've learned to manage how much I actually buy there, but it is all a temptation. I also hit the library and the regular supermarket.

  • I also went to hospice to visit my dear friend M who is dying of pancreatic cancer. I suspect she will only be with us for a few more days. She whispered for us to leave so she could take a nap - there were four of us in her room - then gestured for me to come closer so she could say something to me, since her voice is down to a mere whisper. She said, "Talk to S. (another friend who was in the room with us who has undergone some difficult surgeries this year). I'm worried about her." This is so emblematic of this wonderful friend, who always put the needs of others ahead of her own. Her dying at 57 seems particularly unfair.

  • PH and I are going to dinner at an Ethiopian Restaurant tonight with my CPE group and their significant others. Will we actually be able to talk about things other than the hospital and CPE?

  • Spooky the cat has decided she will help me with my typing, so I think I'll end here before she types something untoward. She can be so rude!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Are We There Yet?

Six more days of CPE. The last two days are final evaluation and graduation and stuff like that, so there are really only four more days of clinical work. Remarkably, we have an IPR (group work) scheduled for the final day. I'm ready for it to be over. I got my last verbatim written and have pretty much finished my self-evaluation (it came in at a modest 12 pages); I may polish the final eval a little bit more over the next couple of days, but if I so chose, I could say it is done right now.

We all seem just whupped right now. Even the supervisor seems to have checked out. The string of ungodly hot days hasn't helped matters.

I've learned a lot through this experience, as I had expected, but now I need some space to process it all.

I still think I want to do some on-call work in the fall, but I need a month away from this kind of work. I need a couple of weeks of knitting and reading trashy mystery novels and cleaning the house (or not). I need some time away from dying babies and crying parents. I need silliness. I need chocolate.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hot, Hot, Hot

Heat index of 105 degrees today. I stood on the Metro platform this evening waiting for the train to come for 15 minutes, instead of the usual 3 to 5, because of train delays. Heat does not agree with our Metro system, and it also doesn't agree those of us with MS. Then I got a call from Litigator, saying I needed to get the paperwork in to be a guarantor on his new apartment, like, IMMEDIATELY. The management company, of course, wanted pay stubs, tax return, bank statement, my most recent bloodwork results, genealogy...

Suffice to say, it wasn't fun. And since I can only get my pay stubs online, on the corporate computer that runs slower than molasses, it was stressful. It got done, though, so my kid won't be living on somebody else's couch. All this freakin' running around getting paperwork done meant I missed going to Wednesday Evening Eucharist at the seminary. Drag.

On the other hand, I didn't cry in IPR today, and there are only 7 more days of CPE. I got my last verbatim written, and did a draft of my final evaluation. Once I polish that, I'm just riding it out until a week from Friday, assuming my patients stay alive until then.

Yeah. Wah, wah, wah. I'll shut up now. PH is grilling burgers outside, and the rest of dinner awaits, so life is actually pretty darned good.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Hot Day

I did the funeral in the funeral home today. The deceased was a 10 week old girl whom I had known on the CICU. It went reasonably smoothly; even the ten year old cousin who was to sing did a good job. Got a lot of positive comments from the family who really appreciated my homily.

Then we caravanned over to the cemetery for the interment. My prayers were short, about seven minutes, but the family decided to wait to watch the baby's casket be lowered into the grave, then put roses on it. Took a long time. It was 98 degrees out. I had on a black knit dress. I thought I was going to pass out with the heat.

It was a long day, but I think I did a good job and it was a comfort to the family.

So what's a little heat?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sunday Morning

On Sundays I get up early to take my anti-osteoporosis medicine. Yet another joy of middle age, dang it. Between that (which has to be taken 30 minutes before anything at all) and the regular morning meds (which have to be taken an hour before eating), I usually get up at 5:30. The coffee maker starts up at 6:50 and I bring coffee upstairs to PH at 7 am for some quiet conversation on Sundays - our little peaceful time together before the day begins.

All that will change next month when I begin Field Ed, since it takes a good hour to drive out to my Field Site church. Fortunately, I won't have to be out there until 9 am - only one service on Sunday - so my wake-up schedule won't change. Just the quiet coffee time will go away. Sad about that - it was one of my favorite times in the week.

We'll have to figure out another time for that.

Two more weeks of CPE, then we're going out to the FlatIron Range to visit Strong Opinions at her new place for a few days, and see some of PH's relatives in MileHigh City.

I. Cannot. Wait.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Random Dots of CPE: Ten Days Left

  • So why am I the only person in our groups who cries in IPR? Am I in touch with my inner wuss, or out of control, or just more aware of the challenges that we're facing? Feels pretty uncomfortable.
  • I am doing a memorial service in a funeral parlor on Monday, for one of the babies who died on CICU. Doing any kind of service like this, apart from liturgics practica, is a new thing. These folks aren't Episcopalian, just nondenominationally Christian, without an affiliation to a church. It doesn't feel like the sort of family that would be comfortable with a full-blown Episcopalian service, so I'm going to cobble something together from our tradition and PH's Covenant Book of Common Worship, which isn't quite so fussy. Some prayers, some Scripture, a few words about the baby, who was a beautiful little two-month old with light brown super-curly hair, a song from a cousin. Plus prayers at the graveside for the interment. Learnings abound.
  • A friend from seminary and I ran into each other today, after PH and I came back from the Farmer's Market. He said, "You've got that exhausted from CPE look. You need some rest." No kidding, pal...
  • I'm looking so forward to this being over, ecause I AM tired. And yet I worry about the patients and feeling like I'm abandoning them. Ah, well, I think they and I will both get over it. Yet another thing to cry over in IPR.

Okay troops, here's your question of the day, one that our group has chewed on for lo these many weeks: do you believe in miracles? Not just the "gee, isn't that a beautiful sunset?" kind of miracle, but God reaching down and fully and miraculously healing someone who has something awful? If you do, how do you think God chooses who gets a miracle and who doesn't?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sermon for Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Luke 23:50-56
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

I’ve been doing CPE this summer, at Children’s Hospital in Washington. I spend much of my time in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, where tiny babies, some only days old, undergo open-heart surgery to repair congenital defects. It is a place of great hope, and sometimes great sadness.

One of our sickest babies died recently. Cassie was born with many medical problems, and in her ten months of life underwent a number of surgeries. She finally could hold on no longer. In the last few weeks of Cassie’s life, her mother often said to me, “I just want to hold her in my arms.” There were so many tubes and wires connected to that tiny body that it was impossible in those many weeks for her to be lifted off the bed and into her mother’s embrace. So at the end, the nurses undid most of the wires and tubes, and let her lay in her mother's arms. In death, finally, Cassie’s mother got her wish. The parents sat quietly with her for a long time, and after the last few pieces of equipment were unhooked, they bathed her and dressed her and continued to hold her in their arms.

This is a ritual that often happens in this unit when a baby dies - and babies do die here frequently because we do the most radical of surgeries, the true last-ditch efforts. The parents stay with the baby, bathe their child, and spend time quietly holding their little one. They are waiting. Waiting before they let go.

I wonder about these rituals of washing and waiting. Our Scripture reading this evening speaks of them after Jesus' death on the cross. Joseph of Arimathea collects Jesus' body, lays it in the tomb, and the women come to prepare the materials to wash and anoint the body. It sounds remarkably like the scene I described in the hospital. These actions are in sharp contrast to the responses of others to what has happened to Jesus on the cross. Luke Timothy Johnson highlights these different responses in analyzing this passage and the one that immediately precedes it: at Christ’s death, the centurion reacts by identifying Jesus as an innocent man. The people watching the crucifixion, presumably originally as a form of entertainment, turn away and head for home, beating their breasts in an act of contrition. Jesus’ followers watch, frightened, from a distance. These are expressions, in a way, of the mind: seeing, speaking, regretting, grieving. But Joseph and the women respond with expressions of the body, by doing something active: securing Christ’s body and beginning the ritual preparations for His burial. They are doing something concrete and tactile. Why the different response? Why the washing and waiting, in the hospital or in Joseph’s newly hewn tomb?

I believe that some of it is to lend tactile truth to the death. When you have touched a dead person, child or adult, before the body even goes cold, you know they are dead. You can feel there is no life in them. Some of it, too, is an honoring of the person by washing them, anointing them, preparing them to step away from this world and into the next. It is the last gentle act of love you can do.

There is another element to this kind of ritual. In our shock and grief, sometimes we can only do the housekeeping tasks to keep going. I remember when my mother had her first heart attack. I was fifteen years old. It was a bad heart attack; she was not expected to live. I went home from the hospital that afternoon in a fog of confusion. What was I to do? So I washed windows and cleaned the floors. It seemed a needful thing to do at the time. All I could manage was something tactile, something finite, something that I could control in a time of no control.

So, too, at the moment of death, we wait with the one who has died in a liminal space between the stilling of the heart and the uplifting of the soul to God. We hold them in this sacred moment, not just in our hearts, but in our hands. Before we can rest on the Sabbath, according to the commandment, we must do this work of our hands.

This ritual of washing and waiting is very old. Jewish scholar Ruth Langer describes it thus: “From the point that a person dies, not only the immediate family, but also the community collectively, has a responsibility to ensure that that person is buried properly, showing the greatest respect to the body which had housed life. In most communities today (and this has been true for many centuries), this is the task of a special voluntary burial society, the hevra kaddisha (holy society). Although today they usually perform their tasks at a funeral home, the rituals were designed to take place in the home of the deceased. [W]ith maximum concern for the deceased’s modesty, they first wash the body, and then ritually purify it by pouring over it quantities of water, dress it in white shrouds (and prayer shawl for a man), place it in a plain wooden coffin (if any coffin is used) and close the coffin. During the entire tahara (purification), the only words spoken are a few brief prayers and appropriate biblical verses. This relative silence developed from a sense that the deceased’s soul has not yet left the body entirely and can hear — and be grieved — by words spoken in its presence. The family and community also supply shomerim, watchers, who sit with the body from the time of death until the funeral begins, quietly reciting Psalms — maintaining a focused silence.”

They are waiting.

In this description of the rituals, we can see the details behind the very brief picture Luke sketches out in the Gospel. Joseph and the women were in that liminal space. They had no idea of the glory of the Resurrection to come. They were deeply grieving, only knowing they had lost their dear teacher in a horrific way. The only comfort they had was to use their hands to do the housekeeping tasks: to follow the traditions, the ritual, and wash Him and anoint Him and lay Him in the tomb. The only gift they could give Him was the work of their hands: to wash Him and anoint Him and lay Him in the tomb. They could not know yet of the rolling back of the stone, of the light of a new morning of the risen Christ.

I used to think that rituals like wakes were barbaric. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family, and the wakes were something out of James Joyce. I can still smell the cigars in the smokers’ parlor, and the Bushmill’s and the beer on the breath of the men. I can’t count the number of times I heard someone say at the side of the casket, "Doesn't she look good? Didn’t they do a great job on her?" Spending time sitting with a body? Having the dead person made up and dressed up and laid out for all to see? Awful!

And yet…and yet…

Now I start to see the wisdom of ritual to lend reality to what has happened, although the making up of dead bodies still seems wrong to me. I wonder if we can visualize a going up to heaven without the rituals that bid the person, or at least the person's mortal body, farewell. In our grief, we cannot yet see the rolling back of the stone.

These rituals, in that liminal place, shut the door of the past, of the living of this person who has died, and open another door to the glorious place where all pain is gone, all suffering, all limitations end, and new life begins. It allows the possibility of joy, even in our grief.

To comprehend that joy, the vast expanse of it, may be beyond us. But our faith in it can be incarnate, on the eve of the Sabbath, in the wisdom of the body, in the work of our hands, in the gift of love.