Faith Works 2-12-11
We Live In a Haunted Landscape
We live in a haunted landscape, that much is certainly true.
Near where my family lives, I often hear the weeping of pioneer mother Lilly Jones, who will not live to see her three children, including a newborn, grow to adulthood as life fades from her body.
Just yards from where I work on weekdays, her second (of three) gravesites calls to my mind her four brothers and a cousin, standing not far from the rough-hewn square platted out for a courthouse in a county not yet formed.
And I feel the warmth of her smile quite regularly, as I pass her third and last burial location, gazing down on the passing cars near (where her father and mother are buried as well), marveling at the ease with which I slip into a grocery store filled with wonders from around the world.
It may just be me, but I can sense her presence.
There is that Courthouse Square, with watching faces of stone telling grimly serious jokes about our county's past, lips barely moving but the wit apparent to all who have ears to hear.
I can spot shadowy figures, known from old black and white photos, shading into the doorways of today with ethnic restaurants and modern businesses in full color, but their long dead hopes and dreams putting the chiaroscuro into the street scenes.
And yes, I've walked with others who marked a path from a century ago, a journey of terror and sorrow, and then got to gently trace the heartlines back to a birthplace, and a last resting place for one who died on a downtown Newark corner. Should his shade still be here, or there? He walked alongside of me in both places.
We live in a landscape haunted by names we know, and also by the works of a people whose name for themselves we cannot recover, whose individuality largely comes down over thousands of years to one object, found in the last century – today, the Wray figurine has a human face below the hood of bearskin which looks at me often, and whispers . . . something. He knows what the earthworks are for, and he's willing to tell.
I'm still trying to make it out, just what he's saying.
And of course there are steeples and buildings, churches still used for worship and some repurposed, in which pastors preached and deacons served and a living Word called across the ages. Some names we know – Father Lamy, Rev. McCarty, Dr. Fiers – many more we know not, but their imprint is far beyond cornerstones and congregational histories.
In the pews, faithful worshipers are hearing, in the words of the Christian New Testament, "a great cloud of witnesses," our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, for some of us spiritually only, but no less our ancestors. There are hymns that, wherever I hear them sung, whomever I'm worshiping with, I can hear my grandmother's high clear soprano singing out over the top of the melody.
No, really – I hear her, quite distinctly, gone these thirty years and more.
Then we come to the table, the altar, the Lord's Supper, the communion, the Eucharist. "This do in remembrance of me," said someone who died, and yet lives. We see him not, then suddenly, "in the breaking of the bread," he is visible, present, alive.
We live in a haunted landscape, absolutely.
I'll leave that subject to the marketing department. There's money to be made and thrills to be evoked on call, as scheduled, for individuals and tours by arrangement (bring your own equipment for recording or photography).
But that's not the kind of haunted I'm talking about, or the spirit that can truly bind a community together. There's a spirit of connection, of common purpose & history, of communication, that has nothing to do with digital temperature readouts or resistance meters -- but it's real and vital and necessary, and perhaps most importantly, it's the results that can be measured, not the experience itself.
It is, however, very real. Maybe even more real than . . . what we call reality.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your local ghost story (careful, he's a skeptic, but you wouldn't know it) at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.