walks 32-35: decomposition

maryMy father and his wife came over the afternoon of the 14th, when they were napping I took an afternoon bike ride to the labyrinth.

Walk 32 August 14: New red berries on the bushes that surround the upper part of the labyrinth, even as the daisies in the center have died. I walk in and just walk..my mind does work, but it all goes so lightly, and the insecurities and little threads of problems sift out.  Later, because I have had this moment under the sun, I easily overcome those deadlines.

August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption. A holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church, the day the Church celebrates the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, body and soul. She was without sin, so her whole body was accepted into heaven.

Walk 33 August 15: My father and I walk to the labyrinth, we are very talkative until we get to the garden gate, my father said, how nice, observing the stream and the center of the garden, but where is the labyrinth. I point beyond, and we are then silent.  I walk right in and he reads the blue information page.  He begins his walk and I sit on the mushroom, facing the sun.  He stops from time to time to photograph the church or some flowers.  His pace is slow and meditative. Mine is always quick. He enters the center, and then immediately walks out, I let him wind around a bit, then begin to take my own journey out.  We pass each other several times, I can’t tell how close or far away we actually are. At one time, I am alongside him, and I slow my pace so that we may walk together, but then his path veers him away from me.  We walk out the garden in silence. After awhile, he told me that he was in Chartres, but never saw the labyrinth there, the model of the path we just walked.   Later, he tells his wife that the labyrinth was great and they should go together on Monday when I am at work.

We went to mass at noon.  Stained glass wraps around the church, but tall flowers tap on the glass from the outside.  It is a day to celebrate women in the person of Mary.  I think about how all of the images of Mary are the beautiful and sanctified  13 year old girl visited by Gabriel. But she lived a very long time.  I thought of a photographic installation dressing women of all shapes and sizes and colors in the blue robes of the Virgin Mary.  When I was in Ephesus, they claimed that Mary had stayed there until her death.  I think about the idea of the assumption—that only Mary’s body rose up to heaven.  I think about the garden, where the death and decomposition are a constant reminder of our impermanence, and the ultimate dust we will succumb to with our bodies. The priest told a great joke which disarmed me:

Men were working on repairing the ceiling of a cathedral when a woman came in and kneeled before the image of Mary and began to pray.  One of them decided to play a joke, and said from within the spire “woman, this is Jesus” the woman looked around and said nothing. So the man said it again “woman, I am Jesus, let me here your thoughts.” The woman looked around and went back to praying before the image of Mary.  The man said a third time “Woman, I tell you I am Jesus—do you not here me?” The woman said “ I hear you. Please be quiet and  leave me alone, I am trying to talk to your mother.”

Walk 34: August 16: My father and I go together again.  I am struck by the extension of the metaphor of the labyrinth, I cross my father’s path, walk with him awhile and then we go our separate ways, both solitary in our own journey, ultimately. The woodchips which have that decomposing but nevertheless pleasant smell remind me of the idea of decomposition as opposed to assumption. The labyrinth and the garden are of the earth and the idea of assumption does not even feel very comforting, let alone aspirable.  I think of a woman, Mary, human, scared, in pain.

The Testament of Mary is a beautiful novella written by Colm Toibin which is in the voice of this very human Mary. I received it as a gift from my brother and sister-in-law. I show it to my father, and he opens it to a page that describes the horror of the crucifixion through a metaphor of birds of prey killing rabbits.

Walk 35:  August 17: I was worried that I would not get to the labyrinth on this day, but I did it, despite my shyness to go early Sunday afternoon when there are still many churchgoers.  A small commitment to myself each day, I felt immeasurably grateful that I just did it.  A loud chattering grey bird, who might be the same loud chattering grey bird in my backyard accompanied me. I sit in the center, and look at the impenetrable statue of St. Jude, as joggers, motorcycles and others pass behind him on Germantown Pike.



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