The Lark Ascending
|Sister Marie Schwan|
It's hard, though, to surrender those intimacies mediated by the beauty of this earth.
Sister Marie Schwan is the mother of my soul. She will remain that in this world and the next. She taught me to think, to pray, to love. She gave me a deep sensitivity for words and for The Word. It is she who encouraged me to become a writer.
I was twenty and she was twenty-seven when we met as student sister and master teacher at Marywood. She filled me full of memories that still guide my life. We were faithful to observances that sprung from our love for each other.
That she would be a visionary, that she would whisper her visions into my soul, that her descriptions would be vivid and beyond the wild of nature or the invisibility of God, that she would smile and tell me to see.
That she would open the writings of Thomas Merton, Jessica Powers, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Paul Claudel, Gertrude von le Forte, Emily Dickinson, and T.S. Eliot, and drop their words into my mind and heart; that I would catch my breath and love her for the gift of them. We would read them together. She loved the lark from Claudel's Tidings Brought to Mary, all wings and no feet like the cherubim, crying out in its ascent towards God.
That she would form the thought patterns of my mind.
That she would give structure to my creative imagination.
That she would dissolve the dualities and extol Wisdom, the knowledge gleaned from love.
That she would carve a path and I would walk that path gladly. That she would plant me in the future before the future was here. That I would begin to live in her dream.
A few hours before she died, I was sitting in my living room by the Christmas tree, watching the candle beside her photograph burn down. Music played quietly in the background. For three days I'd kept vigil, though in miles I was far away from where her body lay. She was not alone; I knew that. Her Sisters of St. Joseph kept their own vigil, someone with her every moment as her body made that mysterious transformation into spirit. Suddenly I heard the violin begin to climb. I caught my breath. I rose to my feet. "The Lark Ascending," by Ralph von Williams. Those tones that seem played on the heartstrings. Higher, Higher, seeming finally to dissolve into the Cosmic Silence.
John came into the room to find me in tears. "It's Marie." I told him. "She came to say goodbye."
I am so grateful.