The Lark Ascending

Sister Marie Schwan

Sometimes in life, if you are more than usually blessed, a person will come quietly into your heart and never leave. Time won't make a difference, nor will place--physical presence of a beloved is overrated. Marie died December 30, just a few weeks ago, and I still hear her singing, like the lark ascending from what is deepest to what is highest as she makes her flight from realm to realm, from this earth, from this galaxy, from this universe, through the multiverse, into that totality of Being we try to utter in our feeble way, crying AH! Spreading wings and crying GOD! Dissolving, she is, in a burst of flame, in a song impossibly high. I hear her still in me as she soars. Her promise in that farewell song is this: I am not leaving. This burst, this cry, this sweet flight, this surrender -- I am oneing with the All. Never again will you NOT hear me, feel me, know me, love me in the deep heights, in the farnear of pure essence that you ARE.

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.   


For forty years I've heard your love for Marie, the sacred bond reverberating between you unbroken, though breaks happened here and there around it, then mended to create new and deeper bonds with others. Marie is a constant for you, eternally. I am so glad she said Goodbye with the Lark Ascending. Perfect, the music, the soul. Your description of our love for each other, of her as your soul's mother and teacher, is touching and true. Go gently into the grief of tender sorrow that such love gives, Dear Christin.

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