by Doug Bowen-Bailey
On Sunday, March 22, the congregation bid farewell to Mary Martin. One of her final requests was for a fire. The altar was draped with Pentecost banners – tongues of flame. Members attending the funeral shared a prayer for Mary as they lit a candle.
That Sunday was also the day that we were able to burn the Memorial Prairie garden. We had originally wanted to burn it Saturday afternoon, but the rain on Friday and cold on Saturday made it too wet. (There were plenty of whispers that Mary’s spirit had something to do with the weather.)
For Mary’s spirit also had something to do with the planting of the prairie. When Holly and I experienced pregnancy loss for a second time and brought the idea of a memorial garden to the Coordinating Council, our vision was significantly smaller. We wanted a small oval patch of prairie. It was Mary who argued that we should do the entire hillside. “Loss,” she stayed in her wise and direct way, ” is such a big part of life.”
And so, we plowed under the hillside. The ashes of our children and others are mixed in with the soil that now nourishes the grasses and flowers (and some weeds) in the prairie. I wrote a poem for the original planting that included the line, “This holy ground is where we, the people of God, come to practice resurrection.”
That is what we did this past Sunday. Fire turned the hillside black and gray. But as Easter approaches, so does the promise of new life. Green will find its way to the surface. Flowers will bud and blossom. The warmth of summer returns.
Yet loss is still a big part of life. We will miss Mary Martin in our Peace Church community, just as those of us miss the loved ones who are memorialized in the prairie. Grief accompanies all of the beauty and joy we experience.
In posting something on the website to add this burn to the collective history of Peace Church, I was struck by a picture that my son, Frost, took. (Beyond the miracle that our two kids, Sylvie and Frost, arrived after the pregnancy losses we experienced.) The image Frost captured (at left) shows the afternoon sun coming through the haze of the prairie fire smoke and the bell tower silhouetted in the midst of it all. Just above the flames, a purple shaft of light rises out of the ground. Standing tall and seeming to survey the flames. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t Mary’s spirit enjoying one final fire before moving on. We are surrounded by a cloud of angels.
We remember all of those who we have lost and trust that death will not have the final word. We will remember you, Mary Martin. Go well on your journey. We look forward to seeing what you will do with the place before we get there.