During second hour on Pentecost, we celebrated Heidi's years of pastoring at Assembly. Carmen Horst, one of our interim pastors, told of being invited, along with other friends, to send a bead as a way of accompanying Heidi as she gave birth to her first child. We were invited to present Heidi with a bead and a written blessing as part of this celebration. These were later strung together as a gift for Heidi and the family.
I posted about seeing tadpoles at the Calendar Garden in late April. Heidi told me later she immediately took the boys out to see.
The cycle of life -- empty chrysalis cases on the crumpled leaf and a bright monarch butterfly in flight.
A candle for those Heidi leaves behind. That's a hazelnut on the base, to remind me of the words Julian of Norwich heard Christ say:
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.
The middle school Sunday school class decided to fold cranes for Heidi, and many others joined in over the months, folding and praying.
The first Sunday in Lent, I preached on being Broken, Blessed and Beloved. One image from the sermon was that of the sea turtle. At a difficult time in my life, I heard a message from God that yes, the way was not easy, but it served a purpose, just as some kinds of sea turtles need to make the difficult journey across the beach from nest to the ocean in order to be properly oriented to reach the deep sea feeding grounds, and if female, to return years later to the same beach and lay eggs.
I wore a sea turtle pendant that Sunday, and sent it home with Heidi, who was entering the hospital for an experimental treatment that week. This spring I commissioned this little turtle from Wilma Harder, of silver and sweetwater agate.
Candles have been an important part of our walk with Heidi and her family, from a candle vigil soon after word of her diagnosis to the song and candle vigil just before she died Sunday night.
One of the stained glass windows Wilma Harder made for the Assembly meetinghouse, on a rainy November day
Mary Gilbert, Anne Graber Miller and Sibyl Graber Gerig created a comforter for the Siemens-Rhodes with scraps that the congregation donated. Many have stories behind them -- the blue scallop one near the upper right corner came from material I got on a trip to Japan. Heidi, having lived there several years, provided helpful tips and a sackful of books before I went.
The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness can not put it out.
I began this blog nine months ago partially in response to the news of Heidi's cancer (see the first entry Watching for Light, on 9-29). With Heidi's death Sunday, I have been going through the photos I've taken these past nine months, looking for ones that speak to me of Heidi.
There are none of Heidi herself. I have been taking very few photos of people, since it hasn't seemed right to post those without asking permission and that added an extra layer of work to a blog entry. So even though interactions with people are often the source for sparks of light in a day for me, I have not emphasized that here.
Instead I have focused on nature, and on objects that in some way show a spark of light, either literally or metaphorically. Sometimes it is a physical object that illustrates an interaction or an event that was a spark of light. With the latter, I often have told a little about the event.
I decided to put together a slideshow of photos that speak to me of Heidi -- sometimes due to comments that she sent me, or because the object pictured is from an event related to Heidi, or simply because the photo seems to fit in some way today.
I put this series of photos together, but instead of doing a slideshow here, which may take too long for some computers to download, I have divided it into five segments, one for each day until Heidi's memorial service Saturday, beginning today.
Yesterday evening, on June 24, Heidi Siemens-Rhodes' 38th birthday, just a little before 7:00, friends and fellow church members began gathering for a short song vigil and farewell to Heidi. Nine months ago we reeled at the news that Heidi, one of our co-pastors at Assembly Mennonite, had stage IV cancer and probably only months to live.
She has lived richly and eloquently, sharing her zest for life and her struggles with cancer and unsuccessful treatments. She, husband Mitch, mother Jan, and boys Theo, Adam and Ira, have generously, gracefully, and courageously shared their journey with the congregation and other friends, "daring to stare death in the face," as one friend admiringly put it.
As we gathered, we knew that this day of Heidi's birth was most likely also to be the day of her death, and her birth into a new life.
There were vases and jars for gathering the flowers people brought from their gardens, and a basket for cards.
We lit candles and passed around song sheets:
Let there be light
O Thou in whose presence
The Lord bless you and keep you
There were smiles and tears, and candle flames that danced wildly in the breeze.
People kept streaming in, on bike, on foot, and the small front yard filled and overflowed. Family members gathered on the front porch and watched from the upstairs window. Little ones ran to and fro.
And we sang Happy Birthday, and the three hymns, and stood together in silence, holding Heidi and Mitch and the boys in prayer. Someone began singing a slow, thoughtful Alleluia, alleluia, and we joined in softly.
There were hugs and tears, and people slowly dispersed. About the time most of the crowd was gone, Heidi began taking her last breaths. The family gathered around for that last fare-thee-well, and (from Mitch's message to the congregation and the CaringBridge community) they remained around her bed for some time, crying, laughing, reminiscing and offering words of blessing for Heidi’s new life with God.
Farewell, Heidi, as you rest in God's ocean of light and love. And God's peace to you, Mitch, Jan, Theo, Adam, Ira and to all who will mourn for Heidi, as we continue the journey here.
A rose "candle" for Heidi. Today is her birthday -- and perhaps also the day of her birth into a new life. They have told us that the end of this life is imminent. Every time I check email, I wonder if there will be a message from the Assembly office.
The rose with raindrops comes from the first set of photos I took, back in September, soon after hearing that Heidi had stage IV cancer, when the light caught by raindrops on my rose leaves somehow also caught the mix of sorrow and hope our congregation was experiencing.
And below is a mix of the bright colors of early summer, for a rainbow in celebration of Heidi's birthday, and for the gift of beauty in the midst of sadness.
This icon of Christ hangs on the wall of the chapel at the Hermitage Retreat Center. It caught my eye when I attended a Taize evening prayer service there back in March. This was just after our co-pastor Heidi had been in the hospital for a week, receiving a new cancer treatment. It was not successful and she was suddenly looking much more frail and exhausted than she had before.
In the songs and silence of the Taize service, the awareness of Heidi's illness, the impact on her family, and on our congregation hit me at a new, grief-filled depth. I found comfort in prayers at the foot of the cross, and in gazing on this icon across the room. I hadn't looked closely at it yet, and it was only afterwards that I saw with delight that it is Christ as Light Giver.
Light continued to weave itself through the Opening to Grace retreat last weekend. I told something of the first session yesterday. Saturday was another rich day, with four people having focus sessions. There were many tears and much laughter, struggle, and light, as well as some time to wander in the woods and meadows, enjoying discoveries like this monarch caterpillar feasting on milkweed.
On Sunday morning, I experienced another grace-filled moment of light and shadow. At the end of our last session, we were all standing in a loose circle outside, surrounding the woman who had been working and two people who supported her on either side, and we began singing Prayer of Peace by David Haas.
Each verse follows the same pattern, only the subject changing -- first peace, then love, light, and Christ.
Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet.
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.
Like several others there, I know hand motions to this song, and we began doing them. As we sang the verse "Light before us....let all around us be light," I noticed my shadow. The sun was behind me, and my shadow was at my feet, spread before me. There was some space between me and the people to either side, so it was quite distinct and I found myself watching it as we sang and moved, feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.
With the last verse, I stood with my arms wide spread and slightly lifted, turning in a circle as we sang "Let all around us be Christ," ending with my shadow like a chalice shape before me. And I glimpsed an awareness that yes, somehow in Christ both shadow and light are held. Tears and laughter, sorrow and joy, all intermingled.
And I remembered the last time I had sung this song was the Sunday before, at the end of our Pentecost service. During our second hour, we had a recognition of Heidi's pastoral work in our midst and we closed with the dance group leading us in this prayer of peace, another day when tears and laughter, joy and sorrow danced together, held together in the Body of Christ.
( I'd love to include a clip of our dance group, with their colorful scarves, but don't have it in a form to post. There is a youtube clip of another liturgical dance group, with their version of the same song here -- Prayer of Peace starts at 4:47.)
I've been thinking about weeds and unwanted growth this week. I've been working in my garden and flowerbeds, pulling the weeds, making room for the veggies and the flowers I want to be there.
And I've been thinking about the weed of cancer, and the effect it is having on our copastor Heidi, and on the parents of several friends. Last week Heidi and Mitch made the decision for her to end chemotherapy and to enter hospice care.
There is beauty in thistles, in the right place. There is no beauty in cancer. I don't know if there is ever a "right place" for cancer. I do know that it doesn't belong in Heidi's body.
There is beauty in the supportive responses, in the ways our congregation has gathered around Heidi and her family, in the courage and hope with which they have approached this cancer journey. But beauty in cancer? No.
Thinking about cancer, and about thistles, I went back on campus to look for the thistle I had photographed a couple weeks ago (see yesterday's entry).
I couldn't find it. I looked where I thought I had seen it, and I went back and forth along the edge of the prairie plantings and there was not a thistle anywhere in sight.
Or rather, not any that I recognized. I finally took a second look at this shriveled specimen and realized it was the thistle I had photographed earlier. And I remembered seeing a groundskeeper prowling the plantings with a spray nozzle in hand and a tank of something on his back. A tank of something lethal, apparently, because it certainly did in this thistle.
Apparently thistles don't belong in the prairie plantings, anymore than they belong in my garden. In this setting it was a weed, and the groundskeeper dealt with it.
The doctors tried numerous ways of dealing with Heidi's cancer, but they didn't succeed. Did I mention the beauty of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers who deal with cancer day after day, rejoicing when the treatment goes well, mourning when it does not?
This blog began on a day when I saw raindrops on red rose leaves catching the light. (That photo is the banner for this blog.) I took the picture just a few days after we learned that Heidi had stage IV cancer, and for me the image somehow captured the tears and the hope we had.
Winter has come and gone, and last week there were again raindrops on my rose leaves. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, and also Heidi's years of pastoring at Assembly Mennonite Church. We don't know whether she will be able to be present -- she was last Sunday -- but the service will be recorded. And we will remember and laugh and weep together.
I'm thinking of the intertwining of light and shadow again. Today there was retreat space set up at the meetinghouse, so that people could come as they were able, and spend time in Advent space.
There were tables set up with supplies for folding origami cranes or working creatively with paper supplies or decorating candles with malleable colored beeswax. And there was a large spiral laid out on the floor, outlined with pine branches and tree stumps for setting candles on, with the path leading in to the glowing Christ candle at the center.
We were invited to spend time in prayer or pondering questions such as:
In what ways are the Darkness and Light interacting in you and in the world this Advent season?
How have you seen darkness becoming the "cradle of the dawning"?
Can you name the spots of light and the dark places of this past year?
If we chose to do so, we could carry an unlit candle into the spiral, slowly, mindfully, prayerfully, light it at the Christ candle and then carry it out, placing it on one of the stumps.
On the way in with my unlit candle, I noticed one golden origami crane catching the light as it hung on the mobile that has been made of many origami cranes folded in prayer for Heidi's healing.
And I noticed the dance of the light and shadow of candles that others had left on the stumps of wood.
I didn't have my camera along, so this is a re-creation at home. I looked down at flames that were flickering slightly in the movement of air in the room. Beneath them, the white candles glowed in their wooden holders.
Beneath each holder there was a pool of light, dancing a bit as the flame flickered. And at the center of each pool of light, there was a dancing shadow, cast by the candle itself. In one case, the drips and decorations on the side of the candle were such that the cast shadow looked like a bird, moving gently in its pool of cast light.
On the way out, my attention went to the flame I carried. When I held it at eye level, I could see the beautiful clear blue at the base, then the warm dancing light above. And at the center of the flame, a shadow that was part of the flame and so of light, and yet still a shadow, around and above the wick.With each step I took the flame bent and bowed regally, first to one side, then to the other. I soon had the verse from the old Shaker hymn singing through my head:
When true simplicity is found
to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
to turn, turn shall be our delight,
till by turning, turning we come round right.
How appropriate to accompany a spiral walk. And how fitting with the last questions we were given to ponder: Have any new insights emerged [as you walked the spiral]? Are you feeling called to any new action, to a shift in your current practices, or to letting something go?
Before I entered the spiral, I had folded an origami crane of black paper shot with black threads that caught the light and shimmered. It seemed fitting for this season of ruminating on darkness and light. I left it on the art table.
As I finished the spiral, I realized I wanted to fold another crane to go with it, one of some light colored paper. I shuffled through the papers that were there, and chose a light blue, sprinkled with lighter blue strands. It reminded me of the blue of the flame, and the blue light that Heidi has written about experiencing during her radiation treatment.
I finished folding it, and reached across the table to put it beside the black crane -- and discovered someone had already folded a tiny blue crane and placed it lovingly on the wings of the larger black crane.
Darkness and light.
Dark paper with light threads, dancing candle shadows and flames, and a tiny blue bird of hope.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"