Saturday, April 5, 2008

In Memoriam: Dr. Jan (Jeanette) Fiske

In Memoriam

Jan Fiske

John 11: 21-27

Mourner’s Kaddish

Let the glory of God be extolled, let his great name be hallowed, in the world whose creation he willed. May his kingdom soon prevail, in our own day, our own lives, and the life of all Israel, and let us say: Amen.

Let his great name be blessed for ever and ever.

Let the name of the Holy One, blessed is He, be glorified, exalted, and honored, though He is beyond all the praises, songs and adorations that we can utter, and let us say: Amen.

For us and for all Israel, may the blessing of peace and the promise of life come true, and let us say: Amen.

May he who causes peace to reign in the high heavens, let peace descend on us, on all Israel, and all the world, and let us say: Amen.

May the Source of Peace send peace to all who mourn, and comfort to all who are bereaved. Amen. – The New Union Prayer Book, p. 629ff

The origins of this Kaddish prayer are mysterious; angels are said to have brought it down from heaven. It possesses wonderful power. Truly, if there is any bond strong enough to chain heaven to earth, it is this prayer. It keeps the living together, and forms a bridge to the mysterious realm of the dead. Because this prayer does not acknowledge death, because it permits the blossom, which has fallen from the tree of human kind, to flower and develop again in the human heart, therefore it possesses sanctifying power.

- The New Union Prayer Book, p.622

To place ourselves in this sacred story of Martha, we need to remember that her brother Lazarus has been lying dead now for four days. She and her sister Mary have been sitting shiva, the traditional days of Jewish mourning, in their home in Bethany with family and friends. No doubt they recited this Mourner’s Kaddish or something very much like it.

They had sent for their friend Jesus when Lazarus had fallen ill. He was known to have extraordinary powers to heal and cast out demons. Jesus, however, had been delayed in setting out for Bethany, Martha and Mary’s home. And his disciples had cautioned against his going since his life had already been threatened by others in that region.

But Jesus, we are told, loved Lazarus, and so he goes despite the dangers. Indeed, once he arrives at the tomb later on, we are told he weeps – Jesus weeps just as we weep.

Where we pick up this story, word has just come to the sisters of Bethany that Jesus has arrived at the edge of town. Martha, always the more practical one, always the more active and assertive of the two sisters, heads out of the house to confront him.

She speaks for all of us at times like this, “If only you had come when we called you our brother would not have died….” If only. If only. Martha has no trouble speaking truth to power, no hesitancy to speak her mind.

It turns out that Jesus works best in the world of “if only.” And Jesus has some startling news for Martha: “Your brother will rise again.”

In the world of Martha, Mary, Lazarus and Jesus there were many who believed that on the day that God’s anointed would walk into Jerusalem all of the dead would rise again. There was belief in a resurrection on the last day, the day of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. So Martha says, “I know, I know on the last day he will rise again.”

This is where Jesus really gets Martha’s, and I hope our, attention. “I am the resurrection and the life….do you believe this?” It is at this moment in time that Martha becomes the first person in John’s Gospel to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed one: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Make what you will of this narrative. It gives license to those of us, who like Jan, struggle with times like these and even struggle with any understanding of God, to let God have it like Martha does. In fact, I suspect one of the lessons Jan learned, very much like Martha, is that it is far better to let God be the object of our anger and frustration, because God can handle it and transform it into something different, new and better, sparing anyone else upon which we may unload it from harm, and us from harming others, whether intentionally or not.

It also speaks of the profound sense of healing that comes in community. To wipe away the tears we need to come together – to allow God to wipe away our tears we need to come together. I suspect Jan wants us all to be here now so that we might begin to feel some of the release and freedom she now enjoys!

And it is a story that underscores the importance and power of women in the life of faith. It is Martha, long before the disciples, all men, who sees Jesus for who he really is.

So we come to acknowledge our loss, to acknowledge the pain and even the anger of this loss, but also to recognize that our lives are already mysteriously being changed and transformed as we reflect upon Jan’s life and Jan’s death.

Her friend and spiritual director, The Very Reverend William S. Stafford, desired very much to be here today. He does, however, offer his own reflections on the nearly 30 years he has known and been a part of Jan’s life.

To my great regret, an extended illness has kept me from joining you at the memorial service for Jan Fiske. Jan is someone I have loved and respected and struggled with and supported for nearly thirty years, and I grieve her premature death with you and so many others. Her powerful gift of healing, through which so many have grown in wholeness; her crystal-clear intellect and passionate heart; her life-long love affair with music; her friendships and relationships, in which she shared life with so many of us for so long: losing Jan, we all have much to grieve. Having known her, we all have so much for which to give God thanks.

My relationship with Jan was as a sort of spiritual director or spiritual friend or spiritual wrestling partner. She was without question the most complex person I have ever known. Jan’s gift of healing came out of intensely difficult struggle. Her physical health was always at issue in one way or another. She achieved integrity in her inner life and personality only through the most protracted and profound of battles, against great odds. Her professional credentials and achievements were won through unremitting effort. She had to build the road on which her life moved , and build it through mountains and swamps and deserts. Most of us did not know how hard it was for her.

Part of that was her convoluted relationship with God. Jan never did religion the easy way. She never glossed things over or pretended or ignored. Sometimes she was just plain weird, but she was authentic and honest. That too she learned the hard way. A fiery charismatic conversion experience in her younger years, encountering God in ecstasy and passion, left her with deep wounds and deep conflicts. The solid structure and beauty of Episcopal worship helped bring stability and peace on one level, but deep questions about Jesus and especially the Cross were not resolved. Worship was wonderful, and worship was painful. A long development led her to conversion to Orthodox Judaism, which became a genuine and deep part of her identity. So much of the life of a Jew made satisfying sense to her, from ritual and song to belonging to a special people of God that had been victimized and had won freedom and health. But in spite of all, she could not get Jesus out of her head and her heart. For all the conflict she had with him, he was just there. I urged her to bring with her every bit of her Jewish faith and practice that she could, as she slowly found her way back toward the church. I think she did so. She didn’t throw parts of her life away, even when she may have wanted to, any more than she threw people away.

What God is doing with her now, I do not know. I do know that the unmixed love and peace she longed for now awaits her, and her terrible struggle can be transfigured in God’s presence. Jesus, the Jewish rabbi and friend of the broken and marginalized, is also the risen and living Lord, fountain of life and source of light. Jan’s true integrity of being awaits her where she is now. May she rest in God’s peace, his living shalom; and may light perpetual shine upon her and within her. I will miss her and pray for her, until one day I see her again.

April 4, 2008, the second week of Easter and the commemoration of the martyrdom of Martin Luther King.

The Very Rev. William S. Stafford, Ph.D., D.D.

Dean, The School of Theology

Sewanee: the University of the South

I met Jan about this time of year 13 years ago. We discovered a mutual interest in the Jesus of Judaism. I had once considered converting to Judaism, but was discouraged by the Rabbi with whom I was studying. Jan, of course, made the leap to the religion of Jesus. As we talked she began her slow journey back into the fellowship of His body, the church.

It is wonderful that we can have this celebration of Jan’s life during the Great Fifty Days of Easter – for it was at our Easter Vigil 12 years ago that Jan returned to the church. The church is dressed in White and Gold as a reminder of our Lord’s Incarnation and Resurrection. The Paschal Candle, the Light of Christ, first lit in the darkness of Easter Eve, is burning as a sign of the light that the prophet Isaiah says shines in the darkness, and which Saint John the Evangelist proclaims the darkness has not overcome! It was lit at Jan’s baptism, her entry into eternal life lived with God, and now it lights her way as she more fully enters into that mysterious realm of God’s eternal mercy. It shines as a sign that we come from Love, we return to Love, and Love is all around. Jan was very much one of those who helped to shine the love of God all around in so many ways for so many people. She truly was a participant in Christ’s healing and reconciling ministry to all people.

And it is just eight days before the one service of the year Jan never missed here at Saint Peter’s – Yom HaShoah, our annual Holocaust Remembrance service during which we listen to the story of a living Holocaust survivor. Jan would sit in the front row, quite uncharacteristically, and lead us in singing the Peace Rounds, a hopeful piece of music that looks forward to that time when, as we pray in the Mourner’s Kaddish, that God’s “kingdom soon prevail, in our own day, our own lives, and the life of all Israel.”

(In fact let us sing the Peace Rounds together several times to put ourselves in that musical space Jan would inhabit were she to be here next week: "And everyone 'neath the vine and fig tree shall live in peace and unafraid/And everyone 'neath the vine and fig tree shall live in peace and unafraid/And into ploughshares beat their swords, nations shall learn war no more, and into ploughshares beat their swords, nations shall learn war no more.")

We are those people, like Jan, who believe that the falseness of this world is bounded by a more profound truth. So please turn to page 496 in the Red Book of Common Prayer, and let us stand where Jan has stood so many times before to affirm her faith, and affirm our faith in the One, True and Living God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek

Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

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