By Bridget Lois Jensen
If I had to pick a favorite time of year, it would probably be the late fall season. The weather, though sometimes unpredictable, is generally moderate, as if giving us time to take in a deep refreshing breath between the oppressive summer heat and the biting winter cold. Our social rhythm connected to the school year has gotten into a groove and we are not yet saturated with holiday marketing.
But this year, something felt a bit off. I could feel myself getting edgy, even short-fused. I found my thoughts being negative and judgmental. Maybe the barrage of political campaigning and reporting had worn on me. The stress seemed to intensify with a sidewalk installation project that took our neighborhood by surprise. People came to me with their complaints about trees and shrubs being slated for removal, assuming that with my short stint as a city council aide and my long tenure in the civic association that I could somehow help get the design plans altered.
Then I got word of the death of the housekeeper who had worked at my grandmother’s home, my parents’ home, and then my house. After Minnie’s retirement, I would call her occasionally and go visit her at her home where she was usually caring for grandchildren or great-grandchildren. I had missed calling Minnie at the beginning of October to wish her a happy eighty-eighth birthday, so there was some regret on my part, but I really felt for the family, knowing how Minnie had been the family’s anchor with her faith, hope, and love.
Even in death, Minnie’s spirit was alive in the congregation that assembled for her funeral, or, as her community calls it, her homegoing. And they ministered to me through their prayers and testimonies about Minnie’s hospitality and good-nature. The opening prayer set the mood, giving thanks for waking up, for clothes to wear, for the travel to the service, and even the ability to gather. I left the funeral with a fresh outlook on life with the clouds of my dampened spirit having dissipated.
I don’t want to paint a picture of Minnie being a sort of Uncle Tom; she really was someone who seemed to be cheerful all the time. The sound of her unrestrained laughter is unforgettable. And she almost always wore a big smile, which made her a perfect fit to be an usher for her church, a role she treasured.
I don’t think it is contradictory to say that Minnie, a woman strong in her Christian faith, was also an Epicurean. “Don’t worry be happy” could have been a theme song of her life. From my understanding of the philosophy of Epicurus, one should not fear God, pain, or death. Accepting that pain and death happen as part of life prevents fear from overshadowing the goodness of life. Making the most our of life is not the same thing as fulfilling ambitions of wealth or status. Rather, it is looking for satisfaction and pleasure in the simplest of things, nurturing friendships, and treating others and one’s own self with kindness and generosity of spirit.
Of course we all want to have purpose and meaning in life, but having grandiose aspirations can lead to an unfulfilling rat race of a life. Quality, without getting hung up on perfectionism, can be as much a source of purpose and meaning as quantity. How one interacts with the world around them is what people remember.
As we know, having an abundance of wealth does not ensure happiness. While having monetary resources does provide options, which can indeed be nice and even helpful, having too many choices can become burdensome. It is easy to fall into the trap of questioning whether the best choice has been made. Or if a choice can’t be made, there is the temptation to cover the bases and choose everything if one is able. A Thanksgiving spread can be fine once a year, but indulging in all-you-can-eat buffets year-round is downright unhealthy. A simple meal can be sufficient even for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The bread and wine of the Eucharist is the simplest thanksgiving meal of all. As most readers probably know, the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word that means “to give thanks.” When the bread and wine are given to communicants with the words “given for you” and “shed for you,” I often like to think of the “you” as plural rather than singular. Rather than seeing Jesus Christ as just “my personal Lord and Savior,” I see Jesus the Christ as showing us the Way of the Beloved Community, the Kin-dom of God, as we serve one another, including our animal and plant relations. I recently heard an interesting variation of the Words of Institution; instead of “on the night in which he was betrayed,” it was “on the night in which he washed his disciples' feet.” These words remind me of what my mother said her mother used to say, “In this house, I want no service but loving service.” As a young girl, my mother didn’t like this reminder but now sees the seed that her mother was trying to plant. My grandmother had a lot of sayings that live on in the family, but some of her final words were truly a lasting jewel: “Drink it in.”
With news of the recent death of Don Lenef, the husband of Joy Ibsen, the previous editor of Church and Life, I was of course saddened, but then an image of Don playing trombone came to mind. That was Don drinking it in. Though Joy has confronted the deaths of people dear to her and written about these folks in her book Here and Hereafter: The Eternity Connection, this death is especially close. Yet, knowing Joy, her joy in living will not wane. After all, in the second edition of her book Unafraid: Pew, Pulpit, and Pandemic Joy imagines all kinds of scenarios in which people find themselves gaining insight and strength to face their life’s challenges. Come to think of it, reading Joy’s book may have helped get me out of my sour attitude earlier this fall.
Bridget Lois Jensen