On My Loss of Ann

Arguably, our mothers connect us to each other, to this life and to this world more profoundly than any other thing or person. At any rate, the sense of being uprooted in the wind or unmoored and adrift at sea has been one strong element of my own experience with the loss of my mother two years ago and now also with the loss of my second mother, Ann, who came to me as a mother through my wife, Elizabeth. This world’s bleakness and harsh realities can take on a vivid and all pervasive presence in the void left behind by the absence of a mother.

I’m torn between describing something of the experience of loss and describing Ann. Now that both my wife and I are motherless in this life, I’m freshly convinced that our lostness is the most obvious of two realities that can only be seen with quiet attention. Most of the time, during most of our lives, we do not know that we are lost. When mothers are present for their children, mothers are one of the greatest shields that exist against this sense of being lost. However, a truly wise and good mother will not shield her child entirely or forever. It is critical that we learn how vulnerable, helpless and lost we are in this life. I’ve struggled with many profound weaknesses and failures in my own life, but one of them is not (I’m grateful) depression. I’m sure that much of what I think about the value of recognizing how lost I am is particular to me, will be unhelpful to others and is highly problematic even for myself. However, what I sense is that all of my fellow humans, all of our fellow living creatures and this entire cosmos that sustains us all is profoundly lost. We are lost people within a lost universe, and all of our best stories tell us this loudly and clearly. My recent loss of my two mothers has clarified this for me, driven it home.

I said in the last paragraph that our lostness is the most obvious of two realities that can only be seen with quiet attention. The second of these two realities—the less obvious one—is that we have a home before and beyond this world. This entire lost world came from somewhere that it belonged to and will only be healed when it is once again united with this other place. I don’t have images or words to describe what I mean by this home or even what I mean by being lost and separated from this home, but I can say that being entirely motherless now in this latter part of my life has left me more fully aware of these two realities, more fully than I was before. This is, I suspect, a bitter gift. It is also a gift that I owe—to a large extent—to both of my departed mothers. They both knew these twin realities.

But these large realities are beyond my powers to describe. Happily, if I turn to Ann herself, her own life will point toward these realities more clearly than any further words of mine. There is no better way to see the whole universe and its Creator than to look closely at what we have surrounding us each day. Emily “Ann” Stocker (née Gilman), left a treasure trove of such examples behind her for those of us still making our ways through this life. Ann, although constantly in motion and full of exuberance, was a woman who paid the closest attention to all that surrounded her. Her burial service in an old cemetery on the mountainous border between Maine and New Hampshire brought together a crowd of people. They came from many hours in several directions and over miles of rural roads to stand on a hillside together beside her grave.

Ann came from several older Chatham and Stow families on the side of her mother Ruth. On the side of her father Gordon, Ann came from less settled folk. Gordon’s mother was French Canadian, and he had been raised by several deeply devout Catholic women after he lost his mother early in life. Gordon’s father called many places home but had settled long enough in Stow, Maine at one point to set up his young adult son with a small farmstead. They got started with hens and honey bees before Gordon was left alone with his plot of land and livestock. This was more than enough for Gordon, however. He married Ruth, the daughter of a local dairy farmer, and they raised a family there with plenty to provide for them between their long hen houses as well as their bees, sheep and expansive gardens.

Of Gordon’s decision to make this life with Ruth, she herself gives this account in a few verses written before their marriage (signing it “by Ruth Sarah”):

Do you remember last Saturday night
After the bees and chicks were put to bed
And we had so very hurriedly put out the light
And the smell of spring; had entered our head.

When we travelled to Fryeburg to the movies
With Hilda and Fred by our sides
And were thinking all evening like all lovers
That we must let our consciences be our guides.

However, you cuddled and squeezed my hand,
And kept my mind in a whirl
‘Till I thought you the nicest man in the land
And I a fortunate girl.

At last the movies were over
And away we started for home
Thinking that we would never
Another Saturday night roam.

We’d sit at home in the parlor
Without any Hilda or Fred
And patiently wait for the hour
When all would be going to bed.

The first thing we knew it was morning
And father called down from above
Why waste all this time on courting
There is no such thing as love

So you jumped into your Plymouth
And started home to your chicks
And made up your mind forever
You would keep yourself in the sticks.

Although never moving back to her childhood home as an adult, Ann told vivid stories throughout her life of the country surrounding Stow and Chatham. Ann remained close to extended family in the area and took her children and grandchildren back to visit the beautiful rivers, mountains and homesteads of her childhood. These places certainly lived in her heart.

She took us up Baldface and to Emerald Pool. When she showed us where her mother was buried, she pointed out Eastman Mountain and the name Eastman on many of the headstones. Ann’s maternal great-grandmother was Sarah (Eastman) McKeen, the mother of Glenora McKeen Hanscom. Eastman Mountain is named after the family of an early settler to the region—Asa Eastman or his father Jonathan. Asa was born in Concord in 1770 of Jonathan and Mary, married in Concord to Polly Kimball in 1795. Asa and Polly were the parents of at least 4 sons and 3 daughters, and Asa was buried in Chatham in 1818. Although the Eastman family of Sarah (Eastman) McKeen is distantly related to that of Asa Eastman (with Asa and Sarah being fourth cousins, twice removed), Sarah’s family came to Chatham much later. Sarah was the daughter of Lorenzo Eastman, born 1808 in Bartlett, New Hampshire. Lorenzo’s son Loren Eastman settled on Butter Hill Road in Chatham in the 1870s, and Lorenzo came and lived with Loren in his old age. Sarah would likely have come to the Chatham area around the same time as her brother Loren.

Ann clearly felt this sense of generational rootedness in the place where she grew up walking down the road from her father’s farm to attend a one room schoolhouse. Sale of eggs were a staple source of income for the family, and Ann remembered fondly the sound of sanding eggs to clean them as well as the cooing of hundreds of hens at once while they settled down for the night in their large and well-kept hen houses. Among his many labors, Gordon had to regularly defend his honey bees from bears. Ann remembered her father rushing out the door once without any gun and charging straight at a bear that he sent fleeing into the woods. There were endless stories about Gordon in action. Like his daughter after him, Gordon was always in motion and responded to any need around him with an immediacy that often left others struggling to catch up. Gordon was also a singer, and Ann remembers his voice carrying clearly through the thick walls of farm buildings and across their wide pastures as he worked. Ann also had a beautiful singing voice. As a graduate of Fryeburg Academy, she loved the opportunity to sing with their choir, mentioning in particular what a joy it was to participate in Handel’s Messiah. All of those in the church where she served and worshipped for the last several decades of her life spoke of the blessing of singing with her.

As a teenager, Ann loved to catch a ride with friends to climb Baldface and to jump into Emerald Pool on the way back down. She remained a hiker and walker long past the point when physical disability would have stopped most people. As a young girl, she recalled packing lunches to wander alone—following the tops of old stone walls through the forest as far as she could without touching the ground and stopping only to enjoy her solitary picnic.

Attending the University of Maine Orono, Ann studied English and made lifelong friends. She also became an outspoken follower of Jesus Christ in college, having grown up with the quiet Catholicism of her father and the old New England pragmatism of her mother. There is even a story that she witnessed to her fellow English student Stephen King. Ann met and married Richard “Rick” Stocker in a Bible study that Rick was attending while living in the Twitchell Hill commune of Montville, Maine. Joining the Bible study group, Rick and Ann ended up teaching in a school together that was attached to the community. They wanted to get married and needed the blessing of their community. A prophet sought a vision and confirmed their plans to marry with a vision of two pigs eating from the same troph. Bear meat was served at their wedding. Early in their marriage, Rick came to love the verse in Proverbs saying that “whoso finds a wife finds a good thing.” Rick called Ann his Good Thing, and Ann playfully called him Whoso in return.

Ann lost her mother Ruth to cancer shortly after her marriage to Rick. Ultimately, this community took them far from family to Pink Mountain, British Columbia where Rick built the log cabin in which their first two children were born. They eventually joined a few other families who recognized the community as a cult and undertook the difficult journey of leaving and returning home. Ann and Rick worked hard to reestablish lives in Maine, where they had a third child, joined the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and raised their family. Rick eventually earned a living as a Maine state investigator and Ann as a supervisor and director within the regional HeadStart program.

When I first met Ann, I couldn’t believe what I had found. I was wearing a jaunty tweed cap that I’d picked up at a Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Canada, and I was very much smitten with her daughter Elizabeth. Ann complimented me on my cap as I recall, and only a few minutes was all it took to see that this was a delightful and formidable lady. When my brother and I made a visit to the Stocker home in Monmouth, Maine a few years later, I was left with a vivid impression of life and goodness amid their sprawling vegetable gardens and the laughter around their breakfast table. Laughter was a staple in this home where I was eventually blessed to call Ann Mom. She loved to laugh at herself for years over her realization part way into one of my first meals in her home that she was serving me a fish for dinner that shared my name—Hake.

Mom enriched and sustained my own love of life in every time that I got to spend with her. Since her loss, I’ve stopped my car a few times to listen to the spring peepers whose evening song she loved so much and which she always noticed again on the first evening of its return each spring. Over the years, mom and I would spar over the names of trees and flowers up and down the east coast from the Carolinas to Maine. She was always alert, observing and sharing.

Her wealth of stories and life experiences came from her generosity and joy. In virtually each of the many historic places and museums that I fondly remember visiting with her—from the Biltmore Estate and Colonial Williamsburg to the Norlands Living History Center and Popham Colony—I can remember Mom exclaiming over one after another of the household devices from colonial and earlier American homes as items that she remembered using during her own years growing up in Stow, Maine or living under the Northern Lights in British Columbia.

Mom could also describe people with such love and delight in their every character trait and feature. With all of her colorful and lively love of life and outspoken energy, in the end, however, what I will carry most closely was Ann’s tireless service to others and her delight in the small details of daily life. At her graveside service, many people testified to her extraordinary love for children and her ability to meet them and enjoy them each for who they were. Later in life, Ann’s father remarried, and Ann spent months traveling to Arizona where she loved her new branch of extended family and where she loved to help with the care for her new mother even after her father’s death. Ann cared for all people with a kind of fierceness and cheerful delight, and she tended tirelessly to their every need. This can only have flowed from a selfless love.

Her love for people ran deep, and I’m sure she would have wanted it noted that her love for others was the grace of God at work in her. In this topsy-turvy world, it was always God to whom she clung with a fierce hope and an infectious gratitude. She knew we were all lost but she also knew that everything can point us back toward home.

Note: Photos here are of the poem by Ann’s mother before her marriage and some of the rock walls around the farm where Ann grew up (the ones that she walked as a girl).

this genuine image for every human being is Christ

From Sergius Bulgakov’s The Bride of the Lamb:

It is necessary to understand that the parousia, the comíng of Christ in glory, that is, in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, is, as such, already the judgment. The parousia cannot be an external and mutually indifferent encounter between God who has come into the world and man who remains in his isolated state of being, as he was before this encounter. On the contrary, man too is clothed in glory and incorruptibility, and the creaturely Sophia becomes transparent for the Divine Sophia. This changes man’s very being, This encounter with God, this entering into the realm of the divine fire, is not something optional for human beings. It is inevitable. For some this is the time of liberation (“look up, and lift up your heads” [Luke 21:28). For others it is a time of fear and horror: “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). No one can avoid this encounter, for it is not an outward encounter but an inward one. For many this will be an unexpected and undesired transformation of their being, for the transfiguration, the light of glory given to human beings, can do more than illuminate. It can also consume in fire.

What is this fire that burns the chaff? And how is the judgment accomplished? The Judge is the Son of man, to whom the Father has given the power to judge those whom “he is not ashamed to call…..brethren” (Heb. 2:11, 17; cf. P 82:1: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods”). About this judgment, which is the baptism of the world by fire, the Forerunner of the Lord says: “He (Christ) shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). This baptism by fire refers not only to the Pentecost of Zion, which opens up the kingdom of grace and serves as the precursor of the Pentecost of the world, the kingdom of glory in the parousia. This baptism is in fact the glory as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Christ enters the world in an evident manner for every human being by the power of the Holy Spirit. The parousia manifestly clothes every human being in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

It is precisely in this sense that the parousia is also the judgment. And Christ, as the Judge (John 5:27), judges by the Holy Spirit. Human beings are clothed in Christ, who is the Truth and the Life, by the life giving Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth. This means that every human being is inwardly confronted with the truth about himself. Every human being sees himself in the truth, by a vision that is not abstract but living, like the consuming flame of a fire from whose light one cannot hide, for all will become visible: “for judgment I am come into this world” (John 9:39), says the Lord. “Now is the judgment of this world” (12:31). But this judgment will be accomplished by Christ through the Comforter: “when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (16:8, 11).

The manifestation of God’s glory in the world is also the manifestation of the truth itself, as well as the abolition of falsehood and the power of the father of lies (John 8:44). No falsehood, no self-deception, no error will have a place in the kingdom of truth, and this “exposure” by the Spirit of truth is already the judgment. By virtue of the truth this judgment becomes for everyone a self-judgment, a shedding of the veils of falsehood and self-deception that cover emptiness. The enthronement of Christ in the world, the reign of God come in power, is the Holy Spirit that fully, without any kenosis, pours forth upon all flesh. Christ’s revelation in the Holy Spirit has an irresistible force, which is manifested both in the universal resurrection and in the transformation of the world, with a transfiguration and glorification that extend to all flesh. This illuminating and transfiguring power is expressed in the image of fire, not natural of course but “spiritual,” which will penetrate the “spiritual” body and the spirit itself. The fire of the future age consumes, but it also transfigures, illuminates, gladdens.

…The judgement and separation consist in the fact that every human being will be placed before his own eternal image in Christ, that is, before Christ. And in the light of this image, he will see his own reality, and this comparison will be the judgmnent. It is this that is the Last Judgment of Christ upon every human being. In this judgment, the “books” are opened, for the Holy Spirit gives the power to read them clearly. Human life in all its fullness and connectedness is manifested in the implacable, inwardly irrefutable light of justice. This is a global vista, referring to man not only as a personal being but also as a generic one. Both man’s life and his responsibility are conditioned by and linked with the destinies of the whole human race. He is judged or rather he judges himself in Christ as belonging to all humankind, to the whole history of “all the nations,” in the total concreteness of all-human, universal being. He now knows this being as the life of Christ’s humanity, which He assumed in His double nature

…The proper self-determination of every human being in his creaturely freedom presents itself here as a certain self-evident reality, and not only as an external judgment upon him. This means that the Father left the judgment to His Son, who Himself is the Son of man, and, in His humanity, every human being finds himself and the judgment upon himself. This judgment is therefore not transcendent but immanent. In every human being, his own unreality or nakedness, his failure to wear a wedding garment at the wedding feast, is clearly distinguished from Christ’s reality. Just as the Holy Spirit manifests Christ in glory, so it reveals Christ’s presence in every human being. The judgment is the theophany to the world of the Son sent by the Father in the Holy Spirit. Resurrection in incorruptibility and glorification is precisely the Last Judgment, in which creation appears before the face of God and sees itself in God. For the image of God, given to man at his creation, is also the judgment upon man in relation to his likeness, which is the realization of this image in creaturely freedom. The “likeness” is the book of life opened at the judgment. God’s image will be revealed to every human being by the Holy Spirit as inner justice and judgment for creaturely life. This judgment of Christ is also every human being’s own iudgment upon himself. It consists in each person seeing himself in the light of his own justice, in the light of his proto-image, which he perceives in his resurrection under illumination by the Holy Spirit. The Judgment is the judgment of every human being in his true image upon himself in his “likeness.” As such, the judgment is self-evidently persuasive. This genuine image for every human being is Christ: The judgment consists in the fact that the light has come into the world (see John 3:19). “For judgment I am come into the world” (9:39)

Is it possible to reject this ontological self-judgment upon oneself as inappropriate and unconvincing? No! It is not possible, for one is judged by one’s own being, by one’s own truth. St. Isaac the Syrian says that the torments of hell are the burning of love for God, the burning fire of this love (we will encounter this idea again when we consider the burning in hell). This idea is also applicable to man’s relation to his divine proto-image: being aware of how distant he is from his proto-image in his given state or likeness, a human being nevertheless recognizes himself in this image as he could and should be according to God’s thought. He loves this image of himself, judges himself by it, compares himself to it, does not and cannot retreat from it inwardly.

This proto-image is Christ. Every human being sees himself in Christ and measures the extent of his difference from this proto-image. A human being cannot fail to love the Christ who is revealed in him, and he cannot fail to love himself revealed in Christ. The two things are the same. Such is human ontology. Love is the Holy Spirit, who sets the heart afire with this love. But this love, this blazing up of the Spirit, is also the judgment of the individual upon himself, his vision of himself outside himself, in conflict with himself, that is, outside Christ and far from Christ. And the measure and knowledge of this separation are determined by Love, that is, by the Holy Spirit. The same fire, the same love gladdens and burns, torments and gives joy. The judgment of love is the most terrible judgment, more terrilble than that of justice and wrath, than that of the law, for it includes all this but also transcends it. The judgment of love consists of a revolution in people’s hearts, in which, by the action of the Holy Spirit in the resurrection, the eternal source of love for Christ is revealed together with the torment caused by the failure to actualize this love in the life that has passed. It is impossible to appear before Christ and to see Him without loving him.

In the resurrection, there is no longer any place for anti-Christianity, for enmity toward Christ, for satanic hatred of Him, just as there is no place for fear of Him as the Judge terrible in His omnipotence and the fury of His wrath. The Lord will come as He was on earth: meek and humble in heart, though now in glory. But this meekness and humility will burn hearts by their love and their judgment. God-Love judges with love the sins against love.

in the inferno of the same

The crisis of love does not derive from too many others so much as from the erosion of the Other. This erosion is occurring in all spheres of life; its corollary is the mounting narcissification of the Self. In fact, the vanishing of the Other is a dramatic process—even though, fatefully enough, it largely escapes notice. Eros concerns the Other in the strong sense, namely, what cannot be encompassed by the regime of the ego. Therefore, in the inferno of the same, which contemporary society is increasingly becoming, erotic experience does not exist.

Byung-Chul Han in The Agony of Eros.

a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy

Wendell Berry on Heaven and Hell:

I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed. It is Hell until it is Heaven. Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgment. And yet, in suffering that light’s awful clarity, in seeing themselves in it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty, and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and so are changed into what they could not have been but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

Wendell Berry in A World Lost.

it is love that creates life

It is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus and had pity on him, that He had the power of restoring life to him. …God is Love, and it is love that creates life; it is love that weeps at the grave and it is, therefore, love that restores life… This is the meaning of these Divine tears. They are tears of love and, therefore, in them is the power of life. Love, which is the foundation of life and its source, is at work again recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: “Lazarus, come forth!” And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the real beginning of both: the Cross, as the supreme sacrifice of love, and the Common Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann in a homily for the Saturday of Lazarus (published in The Christian Way, 1961).

love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds

Nothing is inexorable but love. Love which will yield to prayer is imperfect and poor. Nor is it then the love that yields, but its alloy. …For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected—not in itself, but in the object. …Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.

George MacDonald (#2 in the anthology by C.S. Lewis)

who would love us more than he

This passage from The Belgic Confession (1561, in Article 26) brings to mind “the only lover of mankind” as a way of referencing Jesus within many old prayers:

For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does. Although he was “in the form of God,” Christ nevertheless “emptied himself,” taking “human form” and “the form of a slave” for us; and he made himself “like his brothers and sisters in every respect.” Suppose we had to find another intercessor. Who would love us more than he who gave his life for us, even though “we were enemies” And suppose we had to find one who has prestige and power. Who has as much of these as he who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and who has “all authority in heaven and on earth”?

moral responsibility arises neither from contractual relationships nor from the cooperative exchange between independent individuals

For gentleness requires, as Reimlers observes, that we learn to see that “the other person is ‘given’ to us in the sense that, prior to rules and principles of social morality, the presence of the other in our lives constitutes our responsibility. Moral responsibility arises neither from contractual relationships nor from the cooperative exchange between independent individuals. Instead it arises from the nature of the moral self that discovers itself within a network of social relationships. …The benefits bestowed by love and friendship are consequential rather than conditional, which explains why human life that is constituted by these relationships is appropriately experienced as a gift. A society that accepts responsibility for dependent others such as the mentally disabled will do so because there are sufficient people who accept something like this account as true.”

Long story short: we don’t get to make our lives up. We get to receive our lives as gifts. The story that says we should have no story except the story we chose when we had no story is a lie. To be human is to learn that we don’t make up our lives because we’re creatures. Christians are people who recognize that we have a Father whom we can thank for our existence. Christian discipleship is about learning to receive our lives as gifts without regret. And that has the deepest political implications. Much of modern political theory and practice is about creating a society where we do not have to acknowledge that our lives are gifts we receive from one another.

From Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier.

How can the end of the world start in a place like this?

From Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

The authors would like to join the demon Crowley in dedicating this book to the memory of G.K. CHESTERTON. A man who knew what was going on.

Also regarding GKC, in the story, we have this at one point within Crowley’s stream of consciousness thinking:

Who had written that? Chesterton, wasn’t it? The only poet in the twentieth century to even come close to the Truth.

One of the book’s most developed themes is the joy of life found in children and the loss of particular places where children can enjoy the world.

She gave him a helpless look. “It’s hard to describe it,” she said. “Something or someone loves this place. Loves every inch of it so powerfully that it shields and protects it. A deep-down, huge, fierce love. How can anything bad start here? How can the end of the world start in a place like this? This is the kind of town you’d want to raise your kids in. It’s a kids’ paradise.” She smiled weakly. “You should see the local kids. They’re unreal! Right out of the ‘Boy’s Own Paper!’ All scabby knees and ‘brilliant!’ and bulls-eyes—”

…The sun continued to shine. The thrush continued to sing. Dog gave up on his master, and began to stalk a butterfly in the grass by the garden hedge. This was a serious, solid, impassible hedge, of thick and well-trimmed privet, and Adam knew it of old. Beyond it stretched open fields, and wonderful muddy ditches, and unripe fruit, and irate but slow-of-foot owners of fruit trees, and circuses, and streams to dam, and walls and trees just made for climbing.

There’s also a wide variety of wit and humor that ranges all over the map of human experience. For example, this bit about “movements” (to use a Wendell Berry term) versus community:

And he’d given up on ecology when the ecology magazine he’d been subscribing to had shown its readers a plan of a self-sufficient garden, and had drawn the ecological goat tethered within three feet of the ecological beehive. Newt had spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house in the country and thought he knew something about the habits of both goats and bees, and concluded therefore that the magazine was run by a bunch of bib-overalled maniacs. Besides, it used the word “community” too often; Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word “community” were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.