Saturday, October 28, 2017

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

I traveled to up Lawrenceville, Georgia for my cousin Martina's funeral this past weekend. It was odd how I ended up going. My sister, Mary Nell, was planning a trip to Tampa for a high school reunion and had made plans to join us for lunch on Saturday. And then she called to say she was cancelling to be with a branch of the McLauchlin clan. My cousin Martina had been diagnosed with cancer in early September, and now on October 21st, she was being laid to rest.

Martina on the left
I thought  I needed to be there too. Only now, at my age and physical condition, I hesitated to put myself through the strain of the trip to be at the home-going of a relative I had not spent much time with since we were both children.

I felt obliged. But, not really. Martina was gone, but still... I felt I 'owed it to her' to be there.She had twice in the past few years asked me to call or visit her. "Yes, yes, I will," but know how it is..

I see now that the call to come honor her passing was a calling of the Spirit. I did not know then just how truly it was - a love that will not let me go.

     O Love that will not let me go,
     I rest my weary soul in thee;
     I give thee back the life I owe,
     That in thine ocean depths its flow
     May richer, fuller be. *

The eulogy for Martina was standing room only. When pastor Mincey first spoke the word 'agape' he seemed to be routinely paying respect to a life well lived. Martina's life had surely touched many.  But as speaker followed speaker, I began to feel the much-more-ness of the word, Agape. My cousin's life had been a torch of love. When the music minister from her Methodist Church sang "And the Joy we share as we tarry there..." my reserve began to melt. She had taken up the mantle of love that had been passed down from my grandmother, and now in passing, she was giving evidence of a life so lived as to make sure her flickering torch, though now returned to the Light that had given it, would also fall on us.

     O Light that followest all my way,
     I  yield my flickering torch to thee;
     My heart restores its borrowed ray
     That in thy sunshine's blaze its day,
     May brighter, fairer be. 

I had not felt the glow of that agape for many years.

My grandmother had died while I was in Viet Nam. She had passed just before Thanksgiving in 1969. The Tom Green County, my ship, took a rocket in the mess decks sometime after Christmas and I did not hear of her death until we limped back to Yokosuka in mid-January. When my wife Anne told me that she was gone, there was little room for more grief. I stuffed the pain inside, along with the chaos of combat, where it would rest for nine more years.

      O joy, that sleekest me through pain,
      I dare not close my heart to thee,
      I chase the rainbow through the rain
      And feel the promise is not vain,
      That morn will tearless be.

Then in December 1977, my marriage fell apart. My wife left me and took the children. I was devastated - beyond words. My sister invited me to spend Christmas with her in Atlanta. There I was closer to the world in which Celia Agnes (Carney) McLauchlin had lived and loved. It always had seemed that her presence pervaded all of Atlanta.

There in my sister's kitchen I sat late one night. After midnight, I remember, it seems, I was thinking of her. The love she had for all her grandchildren. It was a family joke. Once we figured it out we all could laugh and agree, "She loved me the most."

When the losses finally hit me, I cried out, "God, if there is a God help me."  It was then that I first saw the cross and that 'love that will not let me go' poured out. And I sobbed and sobbed. I saw the cross as I have pictured it here, a neon encircled globe with the whole truth standing as a green neon Cross on top of that world.. So that was it. I had fled from Jesus and the Cross. My grandmother's love had brought me back.

      O Cross that liftest up my head,
      I dare not ask to fly from thee;
      I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
      And from the ground there 

           blossoms red
      Life that shall endless be.

Thank you cousin Martina for "passing it on." Thank you grandmother Mac. And thanks to all those who in their own day surrendered to those yet to come, a flickering and now blazing torch - a love that will not let us go.

Listen to the song. Sung by Chris Rice