Sage advice from the Apostle Paul:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12.
My first encounter with Lois and Pres was in the summer of 2014. I had been in the parish a couple of weeks and Pres had just returned home following his recovery from a broken hip – I hope I recall that correctly, Pres? Being fresh to New England, my mind already colored by stereotypes of frigid Yankee stoicism – and with Susan Esposito’s words ringing in my ears about Lois and Pres being two of the St Martin’s most venerable members, I set out to bring Holy Communion to them at home in the firm expectation of encountering two ancient and crusty WASPS.
My expectations were of course, utterly dashed. For I met two warm and witty persons who seemed greatly surprised that I should have taken the trouble to visit them at home – after all as Lois would continue to remind me at every subsequent visit: This is wonderful Fr. Mark, that you should find the time in your busy schedule to bring Communion to us – to which I would mutter some such throw away rejoinder about it being a privilege. But – and here Lois do forgive me for beginning a sentence with a preposition – it was a privilege! So much was it a privilege that with Lois and Pres, the Rector had to take his turn in the que of Eucharistic Ministers keen to visit them each Sunday after it seemed safer for them not to risk coming to church. In fact, David Whitman, I always envied the fact that you were offered sherry afterwards and I never was. Well, such is the burden of being too busy – I guess.
I don’t think Lois ever really understood how much of a privilege for me, and I know for others, it was. Because Lois was a woman who did not think more highly of herself than she ought to have thought. Lois carried herself through life girded by a very sober judgment of herself, according to the measure of faith God accorded her.
Soon after my first visit , I was summoned – for this time it felt a bit like a royal command – by Lois and her prayer partner Jean Richardson, who taken together presented a most formidable couple! This was my first discovery of the rich depth of Lois’ spirituality. Lois was a formidable intercessor, and with Jean they operated an extensive prayer chain. I felt the purpose of this visit was to be assessed as to my support for the efficacy of prayer. I think I must have passed. Again, another stereotype of WASP crustiness – crushed.
I am conscious that everyone here today has more numerous and richer memories of Lois than I can have given the shortness of my time knowing her. Elsewhere five years might be considered a long time, but in Rhode Island not so! Yet we will all agree that Lois had that rare gift for friendship. John Bracken commented to me that: She had such a bright smile. Always made you think she was happy to see you even if she barely knew you. A real gift. A real gift indeed! Lois was a friend to those she met, and she was a friend to the many countless more she carried in her prayers.
In a modern world where sharpness of intellect, keenness of perception, and soundness of judgement are no longer qualities normally associated with so call ‘religious’ people, Lois had the sharpest intellect, the keenest perception, and the soundest judgment of any one I have ever known. What’s more, she faithfully read my sermon blog each week, and when she was able to be in church delivered that rear combination of insightful and charitable comment. Her professional literary career when placed alongside her Christian faithfulness should be an inspiration to each and every one of us of how we might better integrate mind and heart in fruitful living.
However, my central task this morning is to speak about the Christian vision of life. This is a bifocal because in near sight it’s a vision of what is, and in far sight it’s a vision of what will be.
We live in a world where many of us are in thrall to a materialist vision of life. This is a vision of life as simply a biological process that unfolds within the three dimensions of matter, time, and space. I think therefore I am; I feel therefore I am. Lois would have agreed with both these statements, but she would have gone on to add: I pray, therefore I am.
There is another vision in today’s world that masquerades as Christian. This is the vision of life where you can turn a blind eye to the injustices and corruptions of this world so long as you can recite the religious formulas that will buy your ticket on the heaven bound express. We see how this vision infuses the so-called Christian Right with an ends (heaven) justify means (toleration of injustice) approach to living.
Then there is the vision of life that Lois espoused. Lois believed that biological life was simply the first stage in a longer process of growing into the fullness of life with God. She believed in the on-going-ness of life beyond biological death, which for her was only a junction point. How do I know this? Did she ever communicate this understanding to me? Well not in so many words, but I infer it from her life life-long practice of intercessory prayer and faithful public worship.
I imagine that as with all questioning and curious minds, doubt was an ever-present companion for Lois. Yet, she knew two things. The first was that doubt is not the enemy of faith, she knew that was fear. And she knew that despite her human inability to fully comprehend the how and the what of the next phase of life, she knew it that her sense of a larger life, that there was more to life than this, mattered.
And here is the crux! Lois knew that the ongoing greater life in God’s love mattered not because it was an end in itself – a pie in the sky when you die sort of thing – but because the prospect of eternal life continually refocused her attention on this life and what mattered, really mattered for her, in this life. Authentic Christian living is to live with our attention focused on this world where with every fiber of our being we need to work tirelessly for the unfolding of God’s vision of the good creation as a reality in real time. Lois knew the truth of the sentence in the Lord’s prayer: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done – in this world – regardless of how we might imagine it being done in heaven.
Curiosity is the most important quality in the spiritual life and Lois possessed it in spades. As I administered the ritual of the Last Rites to her seemingly unconscious body, a palpable sense of her curiosity as she navigated the transition between dimensions, flooded the room. None of us present could be left in any doubt of Lois’ excitement as she began the process the Book of Common Prayer refers to as life changed but not an ended.
Through her death, Lois has passed on the baton. And our task now is to run with it for the rest of our earthly lives, and hand it on at our death! I hope we might be worthy of her example.
God’s speed dear friend. We know you will continue to keep us in your prayers.