Remembering Emma Lou Thayne and Her Ability to Love

Emma Lou Thayne (2)I will consider my life a success if I am able to master the talent that Emma Lou Thayne had to make people feel good about themselves. It must have been so second-nature to her that I, at first, didn’t realize that I felt better about myself every time I was able to talk with Emma Lou. I felt invigorated (she always had good advice for new directions and paths along with a willingness to help however she could) and happy (she had such great stories and a zen-like outlook on life). It took me some time to see that I felt these things because I felt her love.

She had this talent, an innate ability to love and cherish complete strangers so quickly, to make us feel like we would always be good friends. And, I feel blessed to have been one of the thousands to call her a friend.

I admired Emma Lou from afar for years when one day, I screwed up my courage to write her an email, asking if we could reprint something she had written for Exponent II. I was hoping for a quick “yes”—she’s a busy woman after all.

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A Give-Away in Honor of Emma Lou Thayne’s Life

Many of us at Exponent II have been touched by Emma Lou Thayne’s wisdom and insight over the years. To celebrate her life, we’ve decided to do some give-aways:

  • one used hard copy of Thayne’s and Ulrich’s wonderful book, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir
  • two kindle versions of All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir
  • one one-year subscription to the Exponent II magazine
  • one-two-year subscription to the Exponent II magazine

To enter yourself in this giveaway, please leave a comment on this post. If you are at all familiar with Emma Lou Thayne’s work, please leave a comment (it can be brief) reflecting on her writing, insight, how she impacted you, etc.  (We would like to compile some of these comments into an article for the magazine or just simply to send to the family as a token of how Emma Lou has touched so many people. ) If you are not familiar with her work, but would like to be, just leave a “please enter me in the give-away” comment. 

We will be selecting winners for these give-aways using the very scientific method of selecting names out of a hat. We’ll contact you via the email address you use when you sign in to comment.

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Nativity Scene

dec post 4“You don’t have to make every person in the city of Jerusalem,” my son says to me. He is home from college for the weekend and surveying the scene, incredulous that the stacks of fabric, scattered paper patterns, bags of pellets, stuffing, trim and buttons are ever going to amount to a proper Holy Family. I explain patiently. “It is Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, and there are a lot of characters in this story. I have already edited out the Innkeeper and his wife who are super important.” He says, “They are not what I would call ‘super important’.” I am indignant. “No Innkeeper’s wife, no manger. She orchestrated the whole setting” The row of cutout faces, lined up in various flesh tones alongside their corresponding future bodies, is particularly disconcerting to him. “Why does Jesus look like a thumb?” “Because that is how he is made, he is in swaddling clothes.” My son shivers. “He looks creepy.”

This is part of our holiday tradition. I attempt some seemingly impossible list of homemade gifts and my children and husband watch this ritual of aspirational overachievement with benevolent bemusement. Toys, quilts, scarves, all manner of stuffed and assembled things, most of which could be more easily and cheaply purchased, are in the works from November to the wee hours of Christmas morning. Skins and innards are strung everywhere as Mama Kringle assures everyone that this year she will get everything done on time and without incident. Retail jobs, small children, sickness, travel, nothing deters the hum of the machine or the smoke of the glue gun.

Last year I decided I wanted to make a Nativity out of bean bag dolls. I had bought the pattern years ago but had never done anything with it. I was trying to think of something special for my brother-in-law’s family and I pulled it out. It was the year to do it.

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Memory, Traditions, Christmas

Granny Jammies

I have been thinking a lot about memory lately, and a lot about traditions. The first is because of a very big book I read out loud twice while I was pregnant, called Memory, History, Forgetting. It is by the French phenomenologist, Paul Ricouer. He starts it by saying that the Greeks had two words for memory. One of them described the simple memories that just come to us without trying. We hear, or see, or smell something that reminds us of something else. The other term described memories that don’t necessarily come simply. Instead, they are the memories we actively search for, that we try to recollect. One of the main ways we do this is through telling stories, and essentially asking dear ones, “Remember when?” They might say “Yes,” and the story builds. It could also remind us that the same story can be recounted differently. For Ricouer, there are ways to recount a story so unfaithfully that they do violence or injustice, but there are also times that it is helpful to “recount otherwise,” to tell a different story. Remembering as story-sharing does something else. It helps answer a question some philosophers have had about memory: is it individual or collective? While one could make a case for either, it often seems to be both. We remember as individuals in a community, with narrative serving as the tie that binds. For us as Latter-day Saints, this also plays out each week when we sit in a room with those we call sisters and brothers and effortfully try to remember Christ. One of the ways we might attempt this, is by re-collecting the stories we have heard or read about Christ, including the ever meaningful, ever hopeful story of his birth.

I have been thinking about traditions, because I often think about traditions in December. I love remembering the way that my family celebrates Christmas and asking others the ways that their families do. I can feel close to my family, even when I’m an ocean or whole large landmass away. I feel part of something big and beautiful and sometimes messy, and I feel the warm feelings that I’ve come to associate as the spirit. (Or home. Or love.) Other’s traditions can feel a tiny bit foreign to me, but they can be wonderful to learn about, too. Sometimes I gain new insights, or new eyes to see those insights–to see inside something I have been looking at for a long time.

This happened to me on Sunday, but not quite with family traditions and rememberings of Christ’s birth. It happened with something slightly broader. My husband and I tried to sing along with friends, as we all tried to sing along with Handel’s “Messiah.” It was the first time for me, and because I am not a strong singer, it was hard. It was also beautiful and powerful, and a fitting tribute-tradition to our Savior’s birth, that I was grateful to experience first hand, in a chapel that I was grateful to sit in first hand, that was so different than the room I generally worship in.

A little while after that, my husband and I went with our sleeping babe to another church’s recreation of the journey to Bethlehem. It involved a 45 minute walk through a wooded path on a dark and frigid night, with a series of guided stops. There were two that gave me pause in the best way. One was to the shepherds watching their flock by night. They spoke amongst themselves, normally, casually, then a light appeared from a place that I wasn’t expecting, and I saw three angels. They spoke gentle, familiar words, and sang via a gentle (if still powerful), familiar song: “Gloria, in excelsis Deo!” And I started to cry. Not because I love the song, though there might have been a measure of that too. I started to cry because each of those speaking, singing angels was a young woman. Aside from a small number of beautiful paintings, I can’t remember ever seeing angels depicted as female. (All of the named angels in the scriptures are male.) The other soul-stirring moment was at the manger.

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Guest Post: In Gratitude for Emma Lou

thayne (2)by Anne Wunderli

I met Emma Lou for the first time at my wedding reception in 1983. She was a long-time friend of my mother-in-law and had come to admire and respect her. I was a bit overwhelmed to see her there and to shake her hand.

Over the years her gift for language, her intelligence, and her authentic voice has comforted and inspired me. Reading her spiritual autobiography, The Place of Knowing, this summer was a particularly powerful experience. In it she recounts her remarkable life, interspersing recollections with some of her wonderful poetry. As I read it I marveled at the things that I didn’t know about her: her love of all women and all religious traditions, her passionate opposition to the nuclear arms race, her courage in the face of those who passionately disagreed with her. I also loved reading that she rigorously protected annual time away from her family to work and to be contemplative. She spoke a little bit more about that in a 2011 blog post:

“My spiritual life withers in too much togetherness, just as it thrives in quiet. Alone I find my link to the vertical, the divine: I meditate and pray and walk and dream and write by the hour anything long. I meet myself and my creator again. But I could never be content without also being connected to the horizontal, my people. Because I know I’ll get to occupy both worlds, I’m content in either, with the heavenly balance of both.”

I’m thankful that she included in her book something so personal as her brush with death following a terrible accident. In a video promoting The Place of Knowing, she said:

“I hope what people will take away with them [from reading the book] is that death is a beautiful thing–it was a lovely experience for me. While it was lovely, I came back with a promise to tell about it. I came back also with a new and thorough reverence for life.”

I love the image I have of Emma Lou transitioning joyfully into that new realm, one that she already briefly experienced and returned from rejoicing. Her lasting gift, I think, is helping us all reverence our own lives in all of their challenges and triumphs.

Rest in peace and happiness, Emma Lou.

Anne is VP for Operations at a human services org serving homeless and formerly homeless individuals in Boston called Pine Street Inn.

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When motherhood hurts

PicassoGrowing up, I was often praised for my future motherhood potential. I had a great desire to be a good Mormon woman and I was constantly working to gain the skills to aid in my quest. I learned to sew, knit, bake, and keep a clean house. I worked with children and found that I loved being with little ones. I prized myself on my ability to calm fussy babies and quell toddler tantrums. Surely this motherhood thing would be the perfect fit for me.

After the birth of our first child, my ideals were mostly attainable. I found myself to be a gentle and patient parent and was happy to have my life absorbed into this tiny person. I baked and sewed and cleaned the house. I went for long walks and read books to my little one. There were still hard moments and sleepless nights but all in all, it really was heavenly–motherhood was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

And then things changed.

My second baby was welcomed into this world after a traumatic birth followed by a lonely postpartum period. The copious family and friends who had been a stone’s throw after the birth of our first were now over 1,000 miles and a border crossing away. While I had made a few friends in our new location, most of them were also young mothers and unable to devote a significant amount of time to caring for me as I healed physically and emotionally. While I had been finishing up graduate school after the birth of my first, this time I had no outside goals or experiences beyond caring for two young children. I was lonely and dangerously depressed.

I tried to fight it off–I talked about how blessed I was to have this beautiful baby, to be home with my children, to have an amazing husband who did so much to provide for our family. I knew I should be happy–I had everything that a good LDS wife and mother could want. My life was on track, all that I had prepared for and dreamed of was a reality. And yet I couldn’t shake that feeling of devastation and darkness, the deep-seated desire to just not wake up in the morning so I could escape the heartache that this second motherhood had brought into my life.

I’m not sure how or when it ended, just that there came a day when the darkness was less foreboding, the emotional pain less severe and the scales of life tipped back in favour of continued existence. As I look back on that time, I realize that what I wanted more than anything was to be able to express how hard it was without feeling like I was rejecting my own personhood. Since I had always been taught that my highest calling in this life was to be a mother, when motherhood was deeply painful, life seemed futile. If I couldn’t find joy in motherhood then consequently there could be no joy in life.

When the talks from men come about the glories of womanhood and motherhood, I wanted to stand and show them the aches in my heart, the nightmares of repeated birth trauma, the fears of the dark days returning, the sadness that never truly leaves and the scars that never heal. But instead I hold them, fearful that to share my heart will only confirm their suspicions that I’m not who they always wanted me to be, constantly holding out hope that tomorrow I will be the woman I once thought I was.

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Poetry Sundays: Descending Theology: The Crucifixion

Art by William BouguereauIt is increasingly difficult for me to separate the miracle of Christ’s birth from the sorrow of His death. Maybe age does that to us as we move from the first half to the second half of life. Maybe it’s something about Mary. No doubt, on its deepest level, the message of the atonement offers joy–ultimate, celebratory joy. I believe we will all be freed from the effects of sin and sorrow in the eternities. Yet, in a mortal world of violence and heartbreak, that joy often seems far off.

Some of us struggle to believe in a God who would allow the unspeakable cruelty that exists in this world. I imagine everyone who ever lived will at some point find herself wondering how to hold on to faith when a child is lost to disease, a friend is killed in an act of senseless violence, or even when a good soul is taken home at the end of a long life.

I chose today’s poem because Mary Karr is not shy about telling the truth. She speaks our fear that perhaps, “some less than loving watcher watches us.” She is not afraid to visit the darkest places each of us will visit some day, or to say Christ was not a only God, but also a man when he hung there. I chose this poem because, for me, one of the greatest gifts Christ gave us was the comfort of His last words on the cross: His testimony that a kind and nurturing parent waits to receive us home.

 

Descending Theology: The Crucifixion

To be crucified is first to lie down on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes fix you into place.

Once the cross pops up and the pole stob sinks vertically in an earth hole, perhaps at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt but your own self's burden?

You're not the figurehead on a ship. You're not flying anywhere, and no one's coming to hug you. You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your ribcage struggles up to breathe until you suffocate. If God permits this, one wonders if some less than loving watcher

watches us. The man on the cross under massed thunderheads feels his soul leak away, then surge. Some wind         sucks him into the light stream

in the rent sky, and he's snatched back, held close.

An earlier version of this poem may be read here.  Mary Karr’s “Sinners Welcome” the volume from which the poem was selected can be found here.

 

 

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