Thursday, March 27, 2008

Birthday/Wedding Poem

Birthday/Wedding Poem
For Katie, b. October 28, 1991

“There is no Messiah”
Katie said.
“The world is screwed.”
Come unglued, that is,
A deconstructed rood.

But her hair is glamorous,
And her face pale but radiant
In the loud room,
Crowded with decked-out bridesmaids
And feathers.

Hypothetical Mess-iah,
This world is a Mess, and
IF you were to notice, and
IF you had a chance to do that stuff they talk about, you know,
The manger birth, the wedding feasts, the fishing trips, and
IF you had a chance to suffer pain, like we do,
Then maybe you would like it, (not the pain, you understand)
But like the whole idea of US,
Of Katie, of birthdays, weddings, and the rest,
And want to join us in the Mess,
And sit among the foo-foo and the feathers,
Sample wedding-cake,
And Mongolian barbecue,
And take part in other things we do.

Maybe you would.
And we are stuck here, so you should.

October 28, 2007

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dan Treece, friend and priest

Dan Treece, friend and priest

When Dan Treece died, it was like a mountain laid itself down one night between two older ridge lines and breathed its last. Next morning, the view seemed different, but no one could say exactly why.

In younger days Dan had been a geologist of the oil-seeking sort, roaming the western plains in search of promising topography and landowners willing to sell oil leases. But when I came to know him, Dan was a seminary student at the Nashotah House in Wisconsin, where we both studied to become priests in the Episcopal Church.

From my first encounter with Dan there seemed to be something rock-like about him, a gravelly aura of reliability and trust, something borrowed from Montana mountains and Oklahoma plains and translated into the reverent tones and movements of Anglo-Catholic liturgy, sacred gestures and words rendered by Dan in a gruff voice that made it seem as if God were being commanded to do the sacramental thing, sort of ex opera operato in reverse.

Dan was like an anchor, holding me down on the real world when the detached churchliness of seminary life sent me into unhealthy flights of theological fancy. He also taught me how to tie knots.

In those days we were just learning how to fish for bass using Rapala lures, hand carved from balsa wood by Finnish craftsmen for use in deep, clear northern waters very much like Upper Nashotah Lake, where we fished whenever we could. Dan knew how to tie a certain knot that would not slip on the high-tech monofilament line we used in that ultra-clear water, and I use it to this day, wherever I fish.

And whenever I tie that knot, I think of Dan, and give thanks for having known such a solid character and knowledgeable friend.

Dan fell on hard times as he grew older, and I realized things were not right with him on one of the last fishing trips we took together, perhaps fifteen years ago, when I noticed that Dan wasn’t fishing much at all, but mostly sitting on the bank watching me or just gazing into space. At the time I thought he was just being contemplative, but now I think it was because he had forgotten how to tie the knots in his fly-line.

Not long afterwards, Dan was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and spent his last years in a Nursing Home in Bluff, Utah, where he and his wife, Jean, lived. After learning of his death, I spoke to Jean for the first time in quite a few years. I told her I was going to try to write something about Dan, and that I would send it to her.

I didn’t write fast enough, because Jean also died, not long after we had spoken. She had said nothing about any serious health problems. Now they are both buried there in Bluff, surrounded by the sacred mountains and stark beauty that had so enticed and humbled them.

Having known such grace, how can we lose hope? Even when the knots will not hold and memory fails. It may be that someday I will forget how to tie knots, and how to preside at Mass, and the other things that we so eagerly learned together. I devoutly hope that does not happen to me, but in any case I will still be tracing Dan’s footsteps, following an unknown trail into the mountains, bereft of everything but that which is most real, most holy, and most true.