Sunday, July 23, 2006

Reprise: Ask the Universe

July 23

Through a technical error -- mine -- I made the mistake of deleting all the posts I'd made before the first of June at one time a month or so ago. Most of them had been saved to my hard drive, so I'm reposting many of those as time goes by. This is one of my favorites, dealing with a few of my favorite people in Fairhope. I'll make a few changes to update it but this is pretty much as it appeared on May 16.

My friend Gail is a minister in the Church of Religious Science. She performs interdenominational weddings and holds services at the Unity Church just out on the highway between Montrose and Fairhope. Gail is a beautiful person, physically and spiritually, and someone I always feel comfortable with when I'm under stress or know I could use a certain touch with spiritual first base. I know what to expect; she'll say that I have to take myself out of it, put the question to the universe and let the universe find the answers for me.

There is something soothing in the sound of her voice, in her gentle, knowing laugh, and in the notion that the universe knows what I want and better yet, what I need, and that the universe will supply the answer. I like trying that approach, but am less trusting than Gail that this is really going to work. (Maybe that's why it sometimes doesn't.)

In early May I was surprised when I went to the Memorial Celebration of Life for Arden Flagg that Gail was conducting the service. As she stood at the lectern in the new Unitarian Fellowship building (church?) I realized it was the first time I'd ever seen her in her professional duties. She was elegant and comely, and she reminded us through a few anecdotes and readings of how spiritual, joyous, and beautiful Arden was, and said that through our own living love for her, Arden would never die. There was a period of silence and then people spoke about the meaning Arden had had in their own lives.

Arden had lived in Fairhope on and off in her young life, but had left and raised her three daughters elsewhere, returning about 20 years ago. I'm not clear on the biography, but at the service I learned she had been a biologist and teacher, and a professional Eastern dancer under the name of Manassa. That spelling may be wrong if you try to Google her. It makes me laugh to think of Googling Arden, so much a creature of 20th Century Fairhope that the thought of her in cyberspace is paradoxical. Arden's mother was one in the class of the original children taught by Marietta Johnson (and she's actually in the famous photograph of Mrs. Johnson taken by John Dewey for his book Schools of Tomorrow) when the Organic School was new. Arden was named for Arden, Delaware, the other colony founded to prove Henry George's theory of Single Tax.

The speakers at the memorial all addressed different facets of the woman we knew. One had taken the class Arden taught in Eastern dancing, and said that Arden's sense of her self and the beauty of womanhood inspired the whole class to celebrate womanhood. Another said that to her Arden represented peace, and gave her an example of what to aspire to. (That reminded me that the first time I saw the shocking bumpersticker "Teach Tolerance" it was on Arden's car.) A teenaged granddaughter wept as she said that she would always want to be like her grandmother.

At the end, Arden had been stricken with Alzheimer's and had very little memory. But her pleasant demeanor and joie de vivre seem never to have left, and all of the family had joined in her care when the cancer became serious. She clearly enjoyed their love, and they treasured her to the end. Her sons-in-law spoke about their admiration, and one of them who had been active in caregiving for Arden in her last days, began to release his emotions as he talked and ended blurting, "I'll miss her terrible."

The service ended with Lee Ann Rymes' rendition of "I Hope You Dance." Refreshments were served in the hall. And we all, collectively, asked the universe for permission to keep Arden with us as long as we could.


Tim said...

Now I thought I was aware of nearly every religion within the U.S. - Church of Religious Science, eh? Well, that just goes to show I don't know everything. They seem to be a peaceful congregation - I do not believe in any god or religion, however the world could use more religions such as this one to replace the others. It almost seems Deistic in nature; am I incorrect in that assumption?

Tim :)

Finding Fair Hope said...

I don't know much about the Church of Religious Science, but I think it is an offshoot of the Christian Science faith. They seem to have some connection with the Unity Church too. All of its members I have met are, like Gail, sweet-spirited, genuine, and kind. Ask around, there may be a branch in your area.