“The Perfume” — Memorial Service For Patricia Condon Macdonald
This sermon is available in audio format.Download Audio Sermon: Barbara Mraz - Mar 29, 2018
Good morning. I’m Barbara Mraz, one of many of us here who have known and loved Patricia. After Malcom’s comments, I have the daunting job of speaking on behalf of the church as well as my own faith as we all struggle with the feelings of sadness and loss that blanket our hearts.
First, a story: England, in “an earlier time”. A hundred or more guests are gathered around the banquet tables in King Edwin’s hall, as the servants begin to bring in the meal from the winter kitchen. In a gust of wind from an open door, a little bird flies into the hall, over the heads of the guests, and then out the door at the other end, back into the night. It spends only a brief time in the lighted room; no one knew where it came from or where it was going.
Like the little bird, we don’t know either — where we came from or where we’re going. And at times like today, these questions assume greater urgency as the distractions and irrelevancies that encompass our days give way to questions we are usually too busy or too scared to think much about
Most of us are logical people; we like are methods scientific, our evidence quantifiable and our arguments irrefutable. And yet there are those heart-stopping moments when reason looses its hold on us and we are brought to our knees by a piece of music, an image in a painting, a string of words, or the depth of love we feel looking into another’s face. Those moments, I think, are what Patricia lived for.
There are so many ways to speak about this remarkable wife, mother, businesswoman, writer, artist, friend, and so much more, but my guide today is the poet Rumi who wrote this: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” Patricia was able to do this; she melded her passions with her vocation.
I chose the Gospel reading, especially for this section: Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume and she poured it on the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
The grace and elegance of Mary’s gesture spoke to me of Patricia who also perfumed her world and brought beauty and love in the books, in the gardens, in her homes, in her family,
What does beauty tell us about the Creator? About ourselves?
Beauty speaks of the extravagance of the Creator. Do we really need 90 types of lilies? Or 4,000- varieties of songbirds—each with its own distinctive tune? Do we need bread to smell so good baking? Or a baby’s skin to be so silky soft? Are the Northern Lights essential or are all of these adornments a revelation of what God is like?
Perhaps beauty is also a way that God’s comforts God’s broken children. The Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote this:
“ If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those faces were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty. Despite that factor — or maybe because of it — were carried away by nature’s beauty, which we had missed for so long.”
Beauty is not all about prettiness and art, however. I know that Patricia loved her beautiful family above all things: Malcolm, Mary Sue, Patty, Charles, Damon, Dylan, Sam, Ethan, Jonathan, and she suffered perhaps the greatest, gut-wrenching loss a person can face – the violent loss of a child. Listen to what Dr, Elizabeth Kubler Ross writes:
“The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Christians are in the midst of what we call Holy Week, a walk with Jesus through the week before his death. I think the point of Holy Week and especially of Easter is that Love wins: the love that Jesus displayed in his life, the love of the Creator for all of us. This love that was murdered by a vicious Roman empire who was threatened by what love in action would really look like. And on Easter, in the resurrection, love wins. Violence does not win; hate does not win; arrogance does not win; ignorance does not win; greed does not win. The same love that was present in the life of this good woman and all who adored her. This is what we celebrate today: that even death does not defeat love. And in your own life is there any force that is half as strong?
Is there life after death? Here’s one way to think about it:
In a mother’s womb were two babies.
“Do you believe in life after delivery?” one twin asks.
The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”
Patricia was vibrant, beautiful, loving, smart, talented. filled with life. In that regard, I will close with the observations of the poet Christian Wimans (I think she would like it): “To die well, even for the religious, is to accept not only our own terror and sadness but the terrible holes we leave in the lives of others; at the same time to die well, even for the atheist, is to believe that there is some way of dying into life rather than simply away from it, some form of survival that love makes possible. I don’t mean by survival merely persisting in the memory of others, I mean something deeper and more durable.”
Speaking of his grandmother he goes on to say,” I feel that to be faithful to her, faithful to that person that I loved as much as I have ever loved anyone, I must believe in the scope and momentum of her life not the awful and incongruous instant of her death; in truth it is not difficult at all. Nor is the other instinct belief – or instinct, really — that occurs simultaneously: that her every tear was wiped away, that God looked her out of pain, that in the blink of an eye, the world opened its tenders interiors and let her in.”
Rest in peace, Patricia, and rise in beauty. Amen.