Yesterday, I took a half-day off work and went "cemetery crawling" with Father David, my priest. We've both found that there are precious few people in the world who enjoy walking through cemeteries, looking at the tombstones and memorials. Fortunately, I was brought up wandering through old cemeteries, so I'm used to it, and love it.
We actually started off the day, after a long drive down the freeway, at Cotter's Church Supplies. This was a huge store full of just about everything needed for a liturgical church. We were there to look at travelling Mass kits and albs; but while Father David did serious shopping, I wandered over to the art/icon section. I saw one of my favorite paintings there, Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper. It's a lovely painting, but I question its appropriateness for church use. I'm still not quite sure why it was there. Same with his depiction of The Christ of St. John of the Cross. But below the questionable artwork, they had a table full of icons.
It's no secret that I love icons. I'm inexpressibly glad that the 7th Council affirmed their use by the faithful. They had most of the standard icons: the Holy Face, the Sweet-Kissing Virgin, Archangel Michael; but they had another icon that I've only seen once---I keep a small version in my purse--the Nymphios(Bridegroom). This is a depiction of Christ with his robe and crown of thorns from the Passion, but he does not sad or beaten. Instead, he holds his head high, and stands with dignity. In this image, Christ is the Bridegroom, and His Passion is His wedding feast.
I love this odd little picture. I'm glad I have a copy of it. Most girls carry a picture of someone they love in their purse; I think that He is probably going to be the only Bridegroom in my life, and so to remeber that--and to learn to love Him better--I carry the icon.
When Fr.David moved over to look at the albs, I started browsing through the vestments, and made a discovery: Modern vestments are REALLY BORING. They tend to be made of cheaper, plain cloth, with abstract designs woved or printed onto them. I found one or two stoles that were of brocade, and a few that had good images embroidered into them, but most were excruciatingly boring (or worse, politcally correct and ugly). Fr. David pointed out that at least when the old-fashioned stuff is out of style, it's cheaper to buy! It seems that truth and beauty go together; when you give up one, you forfeit the other. We must hold firm to both, or risk being both wrong and ugly.
The high points of the trip came after we left the store, and found the cemeteries. The first was Rosedale, just a short drive from Cotter's. You drive along a red brick wall to the entrance, then pass through old iron gates. The gravestones are mostly old, and many are carved and engraved in distinct designs. The ground is a little uneven, so the stones are all pointing slightly different directions, like the masts of ships in a dock. The first grave we stopped at was Hattie McDaniel; the famous African-American actress from Gone With the Wind. Her stone was very simple and plain, without even a date of death on it. Then we walked down the little path to the grave of a lady that Father David knew; he'd been there for her graveside service 18 years ago, but had never been back. It took us a little searching to find the stone, but finally we saw the one we were looking for: Mabel Klint.
After reading a prayer from the BOCP, we stood for a moment, looking at what is probably the only memorial to a saintly lady; I noticed a small spider crawling across the stone. For some reason, that spider was....well, not comforting per se, but...I guess I felt content as I watched it. No matter what I do, whether I follow God with all my heart or fail in every attempt, this is how I will be someday. There will be spiders that crawl across the stone on my grave too...and it's a good thing. I will join the other saints--God willing and God helping--and no-one will remember me. And it is good.
After leaving Rosedale, we consulted the maps and plotted a course to bring us to Holy Cross cemetery, where the Catholic author and film producer Myles Connolly is buried. Connolly is most famous for his book, Mr. Blue, but also worked in Hollywood. In fact, one of his other books, Dan England and the Noonday Devil, was more influential to me than Mr. Blue. Holy Cross is much more organized than Rosedale, and it is pretty, but it just doesn't have the character of Rosedale. The gravestones were all flat and set flush into the hillsides, the lawns were perfectly groomed; again, very nice, but not as...real. Myles Connolly is buried, with his wife, just behind a large statue of the Virgin and Child. It's a very simple stone, with their names and important dates on it. I wondered, while standing there, if anyone else ever comes by to pay their respects. Visiting gravesites isn't done much anymore, except as a tourist attraction. Once they're buried, we forget. And we, in our turn, are forgotten.
I think this is part of why I visit the Hortons every month. I don't want them to be forgotten; as long as I come visit, someone knows their stories, someone remembers what they did, and someone is grateful. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to pass that on to someone else, and they will remember. But even if no-one remembers, and all that the Hortons did is forgotten, it will still stand, and God will remember. And so with me, and so with Blessed Sacrament, and so with the world.
"In the soundless awe and wonder, words fall short to hope again. How beautiful, how vast Your love is, new forever, world without an end."