Receiving Smiles from the Deceased In Memory of My Mother
- Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)
In a way reminiscent of Patrick Kavanagh's poem "In Memory of My Mother," my mother is resurrected multiple times each day. She may smile down on me from heaven; I hope so. But she also smiles up at me from the wet clay in which she is buried. She doesn't just lie there, she gives her energy through my memories of her. So full of repose yet so full of life, walking me down the aisle of the grocery store in her thirties, giving me sage advice in her forties, being a great mother-in-law to my wife Kathy, giving me the honor of sharing in her last breath when she died. Her laughter and her tears, all full of vitality, of what we in the world of process theology call "richness of experience." Even in the moist soil she shares her richness.
She also taught me theology. One evening when I was about ten, sitting with her outside on a patio, I asked her who Jesus was. She said: "He is someone who is always holding your hand even when you don't know it." That was the biggest idea I'd ever heard then, and it's still one of the biggest ideas I know. It is the idea of a something, somewhere, surrounding us but more than us, who cares for us, even when we don't know it. John Cobb calls it the eternal companion. It's not about power or hatred, coercion or prestige. It's about compassion, about love.
As my mother smiles up at me from the wet clay, she is, for me, a window into this deep companion. This, I think, is part of the meaning of resurrection. Resurrection is creative transformation its sources are manifold. It can come from a friend, a family member, Jesus, a parent, a child, a mountain, a river or a dog. It is a smiling up and, even in the face of death, and it brings new life.
Smiling up is relational. It belongs both to the one who is smiling and to the one who receives the smile. It may be subtle and fleeting, or wide and beaming. Some smiles last only a moment and some last a lifetime. It does not require the upward curving of the corners of the mouth and the contraction of certain facial muscles. It can simply be a look in the eye. A smile is an energy you feel from a person, sometimes even in sadness. When someone share your suffering with you in a sincere way, you are receiving their smile even as they are sad with you. And when you do the same, you are smiling back. Smiles are deeper than "smiles."
When we remember people we love in loving ways, we are smiling at them and, oftentimes, they are smiling back. Relationships do not end with death. We learn the meaning of resurrection when we remember those we love, receiving their smiles.
- Jay McDaniel
I do not think of you lying in the wet clay Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see You walking down a lane among the poplars On your way to the station, or happily
Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday - You meet me and you say: 'Don't forget to see about the cattle - ' Among your earthiest words the angels stray.
And I think of you walking along a headland Of green oats in June, So full of repose, so rich with life - And I see us meeting at the end of a town
On a fair day by accident, after The bargains are all made and we can walk Together through the shops and stalls and markets Free in the oriental streets of thought.
O you are not lying in the wet clay, For it is a harvest evening now and we Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight And you smile up at us - eternally.
- Patrick Kavanagh
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) was an Irish poet and novelist, widely regarded as one of the foremost poets of the 20th century in Ireland. He was born in County Monaghan, Ireland, and spent most of his early life working on his family's farm. Despite limited formal education, Kavanagh developed a passion for literature and began writing poetry at a young age.