Remembering My Saints by Katie M. Deaver


My mother and I have always been very interested in our personal connection to the spirit realm.  This connection, for us, is an important one.  We pay attention to the signs and messages that remind us of our continued connection to those we love who no longer occupy our own physical time and space.  Each cardinal, butterfly, and ceaselessly repetitive number (310 in our case) promises the continuation of relationship with the ones we miss so dearly.

A few years ago my mother and I were able to see a live show at the Chicago Theater featuring Long Island Medium Teresa Caputo.  Even with hundreds of people in the audience, specific moments of Caputo’s readings spoke to images and memories that resonated and connected to our experiences.  The show allowed us to once again be reminded of the continued connection between us and those special ones who we love and miss.

Since I’m sure there are more than a few skeptics reading this let me clearly state that I’m not trying to convince you of anything.  For me, the continued love and signs from those who have died gives me hope each day and allows me to live my life in ways that try to make our world a better place for everyone.  In many ways these loved ones function as my saints, looking out for me and being close by in times of struggle or pain.

I’ve been thinking about my saints a lot lately.  As I neared the end of my Ph.D. program the family farm back home in Wisconsin was sold, despite my brother’s and my attempts to save it.  The farm had been in our family for over a century, since our ancestors came to the states from Norway.  Many generations had lived on that farm, and many had gone to great lengths to see that it wasn’t sold away from our family.  My brother and I had hoped to protect the farm by legally having it declared a century farm, we had a variety of possible business plans to continue running the farm and I was eager to have a quiet, rural setting to complete my dissertation.  Unfortunately such dreams were not to be.

My brother and I had the privilege of getting to know our great-grandparents quite well as we grew up.  Each Wednesday afternoon was spent with great grandma Betty and great grandpa Earl, often at the farm.  We would play in the barn with the kittens, replenish grandma’s bird feeders so that her cardinals would visit, and drink cool water from the fresh spring near the cow pasture.  In the evening grandma would make pancakes, or chicken nuggets for dinner and we’d all sit at the table to eat together.  After dinner grandma would go out on the front step to call for Oreo, the cat, to come in and get her dinner.  I can still hear the way her voice sounded calling for that cat.  When Oreo finally came in grandma would feed her on small pink Melmac plates, two of which now hold my houseplants.

I’m thankful to have these memories.  I’m thankful that my brother and I lived close enough to really get to know our great-grandparents.  And I’m thankful that these memories and those little pink plates remind me that the people I love are never too far away.  The sting of losing a place that meant so much to my brother and me will take a long time to heal.  While the farm itself is just physical buildings, possessions and worldly things that shouldn’t really matter, the difficult part has been mourning the loss of the hopes and dreams that we have carried for years.  So much time, effort, and excitement were put into our plans and hopes for the future of that farm and now we are forced to let those plans and hopes go.  I still feel as though we let our saints down, as though there must have been something more to do in order to save it.

These feelings of disappointment remind me of a letter that my aunt once wrote, she said that I should never forget that I am one in a long line of women with gentle strength.  Being a good Lutheran I was immediately struck by the ambiguous both/and nature of such a statement.  We Lutherans love our paradox after all!  This reminder of the gentle strength of so many of the women in my life has gotten me through so many of the difficult times in my life.  Taking on a Ph.D. is no small task, and the last few years of my life while undertaking that project have been difficult to say the least.  The reminder that women of gentle strength, like my great grandmother, have been in my corner throughout this process has made it possible.

As we near Mother’s Day I give thanks for all of the women who have shaped my life up to this point.  I am so thankful for the relationships with my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmothers.  These women are my saints, alive or dead, within my physical time and space or outside of it, for this I give thanks.

 

Katie M. Deaver, Ph.D. recently completed her Ph.D. in Feminist Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deaver holds a B.A. in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA, as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her dissertation explored the connections between the Christian understanding of atonement theology and the prevalence of domestic violence in the United States. Her other areas of interest include the connection between power and violence, sexual ethics, and working toward the elimination of the oppression and exploitation of women and girls around the world.

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Categories: Ancestors, Belief, Faith, Family, Foremothers, In Remembrance, Relationships

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21 replies

  1. Ancestor connection is important to me too. I use my grandmother’s sterling silver every day and have many things from my mother’s and grandmothers’ homes that remind me of their love. My family’s farms in Michigan were sold long before I was born. Though he studied agriculture my great-great uncle became a lawyer and prominent businessman. I wonder what my 2x great-grandparents who cleared the forest to establish the farm thought of that. Were they proud? Were they sad to see the land they had worked pass out of the family in the next generation? I often think that not being rooted to the land or even to place is one of the major problems in the modern world.

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    • I have often wondered that myself Carol! As much as I appreciate how easy it can be to travel from place to place, or other advantages that living in a large city might offer it seems there may be something of a disconnect in the true human experience when it is completely separate from land and place.

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      • I think I understand the positive spin regarding being rooted in land and place. Might there not be a downside to it all as well? Because my parents were missionaries (specifically to the Jews) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I early on learned about the “promised land.” Some Jews understand that as a literal place where they can trace to the beginnings of their tradition. And so understand a particular place (now Israel) to be their “God-given land” and push towards appropriating land they believe to be “theirs.” Not all Jews see “the land” in this way. There is complexity in it all. I tend to think of everything as “impermanent” and that includes everything we think is “ours.”

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      • Thank you for this comment Esther! I can certainly understand what you are saying and how the ways in which we cling to things can be incredibly problematic. Throughout the last few months as a mourned the loss of this farm and this land I couldn’t help but think of the Native Americans who probably inhabited that land long before my ancestors. I would hope that there would be some form of middle ground where we can claim and celebrate our connection to the land while also acknowledging the realities of change and the impermanence of our world.

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  2. I have a Tiffany-style lamp and a cut glass sugar and creamer set that belonged to my grandmother, I have and wear a few pieces of my mother’s jewelry. I have crocheted and embroidered pieces from my grandmother, my aunt, and my mother. These are all precious to me. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of family treasures.

    Is there any way you and your brother can get the farm back?

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    • I’m glad that my post could serve as a touching reminder of your own story! We are certainly hoping that might prove to be a possibility in the future… only time will tell I suppose.

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  3. Thank you for this lovely essay on how the spirits of those who have gone before are always near and offering support; we only need to open to their energies. I resonate with how you and your aunt refer to “women of gentle strength” — this feels so right for me and my own women’s line. We haven’t been “activists” or the more popular image these days of women “warriors.” Women of Gentle Strength – beautiful. And your story of your grandma calling the cat and the two plates you retain is truly delightful; it reminds me, too, of my own grandma (also for me a farm me and my brothers stayed on every summer with the cats, dogs, chickens, horses–precious memories indeed; though that Century Farm has also now passed to non-family so my heart goes out to you and your brother). Blessings to you.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words Darla. I’m glad that the imagery of women of gentle strength speaks to you as well! It has fast become my favorite way of describing the women in my life.

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  4. My heart also mourns the loss of your family farm, Katie. I hope it’s spirit and legacy carries on for new people.

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  5. I’m sorry that I couldn’t see the pictures of your family farm that were mentioned in the article, Katie. My great-great grandparents settled not five miles from where I am now living, near Lake Mills, Wisconsin. They, too, immigrated from Norway on the Christiania, the last wooden ship out of Bergen in 1843. They were married in the church that was built from the mast of the ship and is now reconstructed in St. Paul, on the Luther Theological Seminary grounds where I’ve visited. I’m glad you knew the farm in your life-time and am sorry for your loss.

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  6. Your so lucky!! You knew your great grandparents. I did not get to meet mine. Btw Great post!!

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  7. This was just beautiful. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your family farm but am glad that you are still able to feel such a connection to your history. I’m also find it really inspiring to hear a bit about how you have embraced both your Lutheranism (I get it, I’ve got midwestern roots and a degree from St. Olaf) with other spiritual concepts like a connection with your ancestors. It sounds like you are on a beautiful path!

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  8. Thank you for your story, it is also a lot of our story. I had to. Make the decision to sell the farm when my husband was in a nursing home. My children and myself have missed it always, they tell me when ever they dream we are on the farm. We were the second generation to live there.i enjoyed my grandparents and have many things for memories. About the saints I was told by a pastor that the reason the alter rails in Norwegian Lutheran churches are a half circle is because the saints are kneeling on the other side its really a wonderful image the church i go to was my inlaws and all of my childrens and we wete married there and my husband buried there…thank you for letting me ramble on..

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    • Thank you so much for your comment! I always enjoy seeing the ways that personal stories can connect to the stories of others. I had never heard about that reasoning for the half circle altar rails! I love that!! What a wonderful illustration and imagery for church design.

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  9. “As we near Mother’s Day I give thanks for all of the women who have shaped my life up to this point. I am so thankful for the relationships with my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmothers. These women are my saints, alive or dead, within my physical time and space or outside of it, for this I give thanks.”

    This is so beautiful, Katie. I love the idea of Mother’s Day as a ritual of reverence for all our foremothers and maternal lineage. I love the idea of your departed ancestors being your saints.

    I share your Midwestern background. Some of my happiest childhood memories were of being at my aunts’ farms in Minnesota. I grew up in the suburbs and always missed that connection to the land. I think that’s why I’ve always wanted a horse–it was to get back to the farm!

    And I echo Carol Christ’s comments that this lack of connection to and rootedness in place may be the cause of many of our world problems today.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words Mary! There really is something to that rootedness and connection to nature. I didn’t realize until I moved to Chicago a few years ago how necessary the open spaces of nature are for me to really be able to “breathe” and fully function in a positive way. If these special places and connections can fill us and give us life that seems to be a wonderful step in moving toward change in the world.

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