Her voice, her presence are here in words I have hijacked from some old letters — letters written by my mother and saved against the ruination of the years.

Perusing them, I was struck by my sensing I could hear her speaking as if she were there beside me. Mother’s use of language often reflected hidden and poignant depths unlike others in her generation. Now … long after her death, I have taken from a number of those letters certain sentences and phrases and formed from them several found poems. Using one of those poems, I wish to say something about longing remembrance. First the poem:

 

One day slips by … then another:

Never get done what I want to do:

We can see the stars down here:

A great wonder to me:

I have given you the picture:

Don’t worry! “Love lifts all”…

We sang in church.

I’ll pick up and stumble on.

My flowers are blooming.

Love to all!

Mother.

— A found poem by Merle G. Steva

 

Harnessing her words in this fashion, I discover a lovely thing — that words can be more than words. They can be threads linking me to the presence of someone no longer here…who used to be. The poem allows me to muse upon an absence. Its words enable the surfacing of things remembered about Mother: the pursing of her lips, the timbre of her voice and her offhanded way of pronouncing about some profundity. By her words I am united to her through strands of memory. I conjure her presence through a longing remembrance.

It is the summoning into the theater of the mind the presence of past and precious memories. Longing remembrance is where love and absence dwell together. Necessarily, it is the family whose seminal presence in our lives has first dibs on giving us the faces we wear. That our lives from birth to the grave are in part molded by community beginning with the family is what gives longing remembrance its profound hold upon us. As long as we live we shall experience the shaping influence of both those who are near and those who have now passed from our sight.

Think about those persons whose lives impinge upon our own — the living and the gone! They brought to us their smiles. Generously, they shared their confidences, their stories and perhaps even extended their arms in loving embrace. In their presence we were affirmed and knew love. Present or absent, they still live with us through longing remembrance. Their forms and faces people our imagination. Their bodies…so ephemeral and yet so strangely gifted to be a whole universe of meaning to us. God seems to reveal his love for us in and through these bodies. So precious are our bodies that God too desired to become flesh and live amongst us.

There is among Christians the unvarnished belief that wherever love and absence comingle in the presence of longing remembrance God is peculiarly present to us. Yes! As one persuaded of God’s presence wherever we are genuinely attentive to those others in our lives…present and absent, I find that I am surprisingly enriched emotionally through longing remembrance. Longing remembrance links me through a chain of memory to those I love and have loved — present and absent. As I have written, my mother’s presence may even inhabit a found poem — something fashioned from sentences and phrases gleaned from her letters saved against the ruination of the years. An afterthought: It is also I think what happens whenever we receive the Sacrament of Bread and Cup. The Sacrament unites us to the One who is loved, though absent in his flesh, yet brought near through longing remembrance made visible in our receiving these trembling emblems of our faith.

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation at the First Parish Church in Saco.