The Way of Love and Remembrance

The other day I attended a memorial service at the Church of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal Church in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. We were there to celebrate the life of a transplanted Texan, Alane Sauder MacGuire, as mother, friend, psychologist, parishioner, and inveterate New Yorker. Her bicycle that took her everywhere stood next to her photograph.

This place of worship is also called “The Little Church Around the Corner.” Apparently, in 1870 a nearby Catholic church refused to bury a professional actor because the priest thought that activity impure. So he suggested the family try that little church around the corner. Since then the church has become a haven for New York City actors.

To my left is a plaque commemorating the British actor Rex Harrison tipping his wool hat as he often did in “My Fair Lady” on the Broadway stage. He lived for stretches in New York and died in the city in 1990. To his right are stained glass images of St. Alban and St. Augustine. The former is considered Britain’s first Christian martyr and the latter an important Church Father and theologian. Directly above are images of the Stations of the Cross. It is Lent and we are coming up on Palm Sunday.

After the service, I learned that Rex Harrison was married six times and I thought about all the churches that would not let the man in the front door or to the communion rail. Now he is in the company of saints. I felt very much at home in this place.

The deceased’s older son, who is studying to be a lawyer, reminds us that it is twenty-seven days since his mother died. He tells us about a recent dream in which two archangels were directing their mother to heaven but she had things to do and people to see. She was delaying her departure. He laughed that his mother was never out of character.

After the service, I told him what a beautiful dream he had. I thought it an amazing dream that felt like his soul was speaking to him and providing images and words that would in time help him assuage his loss. But I said nothing. I also thought how pleased his mother — a Jungian psychologist — would be to hear her tall, handsome son speak so eloquently about such matters.

I have been doing some research on how the Catholic Church treated images, dreams, idols and the like, especially during the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter Reformation. Through its various councils, especially the Council of Trent (1563) the Church did its best, down to the modern age, to discourage activities and images that were inconsistent with doctrine. I am trying to imagine that wonderful dream finding resonance in the churches of my youth.

We say the Lord’s Prayer and I’m back at that Catholic Church in London as an altar boy, almost slipping into the Latin tongue. I recall Sister Ann telling our class that we must avoid at all costs ever reciting the Protestant ending to this prayer: “For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory …” She didn’t tell us we would go to hell, but I will never forget the look on her face.

Two lifelong friends of the deceased read from 1 Corinthians 13: 1:13, “The Way of Love.” I may speak in tongues, give up everything, and even give my body over to be burned but without love I am nothing. I pray that my vanities fall from me.

The celebrant, Bishop St. John, reminded us that we were there to celebrate the life of a remarkable woman. And we were there to be reminded of our own mortality.

I couldn’t think of a more peaceful and welcoming place, especially in the middle of New York City, to drive both messages home.

It’s been a long time since I had wept in church.

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