“I don’t know how to love him…”

I was watching Jesus Christ Superstar this evening, starring John Legend as Jesus. He is a wonderful Jesus! Each time I see it, it pulls me back to a time in my life that was so deep, so intense. I think of Lori and Tom, the best friends I met in my first week of college, and how the three of us were so in love with Jesus, and all he represented–a life beyond the ambition and greed of our society, something radical, something full of love, a life that let go of material things and chose a different kind of joy. We three were in love with all that. But we often asked each other, how can we follow Jesus’ way in this day and age? And so the song, “I don’t know how to love him,” touched something of that powerful confusion and desire in our hearts.

Now, Lori and Tom are gone, dying too soon, so I have no one with whom to reminisce; but the music calls to mind the idealism and passion we inspired in each other.  I have very few pictures of us, maybe none from college. We were so young then. This picture was taken about a year or two after graduation I think, when Lori was making her vows as a Franciscan sister. (Francis of Assisi was another one who inspired our best dreams.) That was how she tried to love Jesus.

Lori, Tom, and I

Me, Lori & Tom, 1977 or so?

Jesus Christ Superstar had debuted on Broadway the year of my high school graduation. We were lucky enough at Aquinas College to have as a professor a Catholic priest, Fr. Philip Hanley, who brought it into our theology class. He said that Jesus Christ Superstar asked all the questions that people had been asking for centuries about Jesus. And that was what theology was all about. Fr. Hanley is dead now, too, but I still remember how he encouraged us to ask all the questions, how he opened up our minds and hearts.

Lori was a nun for most of her life. Tom worked for the church–it was complicated because he was gay. But eventually he was working for the church and living with a long time partner, so that was a blessing. A few years after that photo, I found the Catholic Worker movement, the best example I knew of people trying to actually live the values of the gospel in our day and age. Radical, and a different kind of joy.

Then, in the midst of our peace activism, I found feminism and needed to launch on an even more radical journey that brought me out of the Catholic church, and into a spiritual movement with women becoming free. I came out as a lesbian, and named myself a witch, and eventually became a Unitarian Universalist minister. All of that brought me far from the paths that Lori and Tom had traveled, so we were not as close in later years, though I visited Lori when she was dying from cancer, and our love for each other went beyond all those differences.

The thing is, that idealistic and passionate young woman is still inside, however the years have transformed me. And listening to the musical this time, when Jesus/John Legend sang, “then, I was inspired; now, I’m sad and tired…” it resonated. We had such hope for changing the world, back then. It is hard to see the fruits of our labor as the backlash against social change movements rocks our nation. I don’t know if my life has lived up to the hopes and dreams I held in those days. Did it all mean anything? Yet Jesus asked those questions too, in Jesus Christ Superstar.

And it is complicated for me now, sorting out where Jesus fits into my life as a witch. But he hasn’t gone away. I remember him encouraging me as I set out on my feminist journey.  I am still wondering how to love him.  Still wondering about that radical way of living and loving. It brings tears to my eyes, even as an old tired woman.

Wheel of Fun

Fun Wheel

Today, Margy and I made art together.  She was coloring Celtic goddesses, and I made this fun wheel.  It is on the model of a chore wheel–you know, where you spin the dial and know who is doing dishes, or laundry, or sweeping the floor.  Only this is for activities that bring joy.  Since that is not always my forte.  So this way, I can spin the dial, and have a suggestion for a fun thing to do.

I constructed a wheel out of cardboard and paper, and then I brainstormed a list of ideas for activities.  I decided to categorize them by the four elements–Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  Because I am a witch and that is how my mind works.  Plus it occurred to me that to care for ourselves, it might be good to have nourishment in all four elements.  Then I decorated with stickers.

We were listening to music while we made art! Plus I took a break to drink a cup of tea and play with Sassy… so that is air, fire, water and earth in one afternoon.  In the center is traditionally the element of spirit, and I thought to add new places, new ideas, new activities, and gratitude to fill out the center of the circle. Today, doing art is our new activity.

What I noticed:  in my original list of activities, the fewest were for water–I had to ponder that and add a couple more.  In my everyday life, most of the activities for earth and air already happen every day, fewer for fire and water.  What do you do for fun and self-care?

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Almost Heaven

Rich & Mitzy 2016

[My dad & mom in 2016]

On Saturday May 26, at about 7:45 a.m., my father Rich Johnson breathed his last breath. I was sitting beside him with my mother, and it happened very gently and quietly. My sister Julie and brother Tim had just left the room, after playing a song for my mom. Tears sprang to my chest in a sob, but they were not tears of sadness. Rather they were a spilling over of love, the primal love I feel for my dad, and the overflowing love of my family that filled his room during the preceding days as we gathered.

I can barely describe what that week was like. I had arrived in West Virginia on Monday evening, and met my sister Julie and my mom at the nursing home. Others continued to arrive through the next days. We gathered in Dad’s room–they had moved him to a private room. Dad was mostly sleeping, but would wake sometimes, not talking, but aware of us. We gave each of us time alone with Dad as we needed it, but mostly we were together, sometimes all of us, sometimes various combinations of us, and one or two people would stay the night each night. We kept in touch with our siblings who were not able to travel to be with us through texts and phone calls.

Mostly, I remember the music–so much music. At first we played CD’s he had in his room, but then folks started playing songs on their phones–country songs, God songs, sad songs, songs of love. Then my brother brought in a guitar and we started singing songs. We have such a musical family! In between, we’d remember jokes my dad would tell, and how sometimes he’d start laughing so hard that he couldn’t get to the punchline. And we’d be laughing too. For example, my dad once talked about starting a nursing home in West Virginia. He would name it “Almost Heaven.” (And we sang that John Denver song too.) We filled his room with music and laughter and tears and grace.

Raccoon – CloserOutside his window was a bird feeder (that was true of all the windows at his nursing home) and sometimes the birds would sing too. Then in the evening, a little raccoon would come to the window, totally fearless, to get his dinner at the bird feeder, and bring us more laughs. My nephew named him (or her) Bandit.

I came home on Sunday the 27th, still overflowing with tears of love. I feel grateful that my dad had a long life–87 years–a good life, and a good death, surrounded by love. I feel grateful for my family. We live far apart from each other, from Maine to Montana, from Michigan to Texas, and we have very diverse viewpoints and perspectives on the world. But we make music and laugh and love so beautifully. These days were like being in ceremony, in the presence of the holy, we were touching mystery. Maybe our time together was a last blessing from our dad, who gave us so many blessings during our lives. Or maybe the blessings just continue.

Johnson family 2013

[Johnson parents and siblings in 2013]

The Red Bird is Singing

cardinal at dawn

On my walk this morning at sunrise, I heard the cardinal singing, and then, for the first time this season, I was able to see him up high in the trees.  There is a symphony of birds each morning, that has been going on for a couple weeks–since around Groundhog Day actually.  I read that birds have photoreceptors in the bases of their brains that record the length of the dark period each day. As the darkness shortens, and as days lengthen, birds get spring fever.  Just like us.  So their songs signal that spring is just around the corner.  Or at least that we are halfway there.  Maybe we in Maine should call Groundhog Day, “Bird Song Day” instead.

Resting and Nesting

Book Shelf

It is amazing how books on a book shelf can induce a feeling of home.  After a pretty busy few weeks (or shall I say–months?), I had this weekend off, and filled it with resting and nesting. I was able to figure out an arrangement for bookcases in the living room, and then unpack some boxes of books–I brought my best old favorites for this spot.  We also have bookcases in the basement, in the area that eventually will be a guest nook, and I arranged those bookcases and put some of my other books there.  That space is still filled with boxes though–but my fantasy is that it will be ready for summer guests.

CD ShelvesI also helped Margy get started in her office, which doubles as the music room–unpacking and shelving all the CDs and LPs.  She has quite a few recordings from all stages of music history, including a Victrola from her grandmother (in our living room), vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and CDs. I’ve moved on to digital mp3s, but she preserves our music history!

In between my frenzies of unpacking, I fell into long naps, or binged on Parenthood on Netflix.  I cooked curried chicken one night, and mowed the front lawn with our push mower one morning. It has felt so restorative to be focused on domesticity for these few days.