dispatch from 02139 (in which we troop to the last morning prayer of this year of thinking sumptuously, moi and the long tall fellow who brought me here in the first place….)
he doesn’t often make requests, the tall bespectacled fellow now known around these parts as “the professor.”
but he did last night.
“would you please come to morning prayer,” he asked. “it’s the last of the year.”
i had a million and one things i thought i needed to do this morning, but i (a.) either got them crossed off the list before eight bells, or (b.) shoved them aside till 10 bells.
we loped together, the professor and i, across the cobbled lanes, up the hill, across the fresh-mown yard and up the steps of memorial church, that great steepled block of faith and prayer that looks out over the huddled masses of harvard college.
morning prayer is one of veritas U’s golden secrets.
each day at quarter to 9, the prayer chapel tucked behind the altar, the one with steeped rows of well-worn wooden pews, the one where eastern light pours through a two-story stretch of panes and glass, fills with a hodge-podge of harvardians and everyday cantabridgians (the latin-derived name for cambridge locals).
as the bells way up high in the bell tower clang their final call to prayer, the choir files in, their black and crimson-edged robes flowing. a wise soul steps to the podium, and the prayerful bow their heads and wonder what faith tradition we might draw from on any particular morning.
oh, i’ve heard suni prayers, tibetan chant, and a short story by amy hempel (that would be from the great church of literary fiction). i’ve listened to anglican prayer, and hebrew scripture. i’ve absorbed leviticus and the lord’s prayer.
and, by nine bells when the last hymnal is tucked back into its perch, i always waft out, lifted.
i’ve started many a day at morning prayer, finding deep grace there in the dappled light of a cloudy cambridge morning. or, as this morning, nearly blinded by the blazing rising orb.
i am moved to know that the great minds all around me are humble enough — and enlightened enough — to turn to the pews for truer higher wisdom. i find it sweet that so many professor emeriti shuffle back, as backpacked undergrads stumble in.
there is God at harvard, indeed.
that the man i married — a man whose prayerfulness is not widely broadcast — chose morning prayer as one of the closing rituals of this year of thinking sumptuously was indeed a grace note i’d not let slip away.
as the rev. jonathan walton, a soulful professor of divinity and minister of the memorial church, stepped to the podium and began preaching with a story about his 9-year-old son’s obsessions with greek mythology, and his tendency to pretend he is one of his pantheon of heroes — one day zeus, one day hermes, another day apollo — i caught a glimmer of a tear well up in my professor’s eye.
he is finding this leave-taking among the toughest ever.
and the rev. walton’s words, and the prayers of petition, were precisely what we both needed.
“life comes at you fast,” the reverend reminded. “how will we equip ourselves for the insecurities and anxieties that surely blow with the winds of change?”
he spoke of courage to go forth and to be seen as we are. he encouraged us “not to navigate under a cloak of invisibility, not to pretend what we’re not,” but rather to “wear our vulnerability.” only then, he said, can we own “what God would have us be.”
and then we bowed our heads and prayed for “core courage,” to face whatever lies ahead. and “for hope, to hold our heads up with dignity even in the face of despair; for love, to strengthen and embolden us to love fearlessly even in our vulnerability.”
we all shuffled out, trailing behind the reverend onto the broad front porch, where urns of coffee and baskets of bagels awaited. under the chill breeze of this fine may morning, we huddled in conversation with the wise minister.
my professor, i do believe, had breathed in essential courage.
i know i had.
it’s a breathtaking dollop of wisdom, to hear that we needn’t be fearless to go forward. to look around and realize that all that is asked of us is that we embrace the whole of who we are, and take our humbled, unfinished selves out into the world, beyond the walls of the steepled church, beyond the gated yard and cobbled streets, and get on with the business of making our life’s work whole.
amen to that, and to this holy blessed year. and to “the professor” who brought me here in the first place, and who accompanies me home, forever deepened by what unfolded here….
and to all of you, who came along for the journey, humbling as it was, bless you and bless you. we are off to the berkshires for a weekend’s romp, the last as the class of 2013. and then, come wednesday, it’s closing ceremonies and words of wisdom imparted in one final blessing.