>A Place of Healing For the Soul

>This should have been my blog post for September 18. That was the 9th anniversary of the death of my precious Goddaughter, Mary Allison Callaway. She was only 20 years old. I’ll talk more about her later in this post.

But I’m glad I waited until today to write about Mary Allison, because now I have two other things to say about healing for the soul:

Peter France’s wonderful book, A Place of Healing For the Soul: Patmos is the second in my trilogy of books to read before our trip to Greece in a few weeks. It has proved to be an amazing book on many levels. Unlike the first book I reviewed, The Summer of my Greek Taverna (see my post of September 18) France’s book is truly a spiritual journal. I don’t think he set out for it to be, since he was a self-proclaimed agnostic when he first traveled to Greece with his wife, Felicia, who had converted to Orthodox Christianity a few years earlier. But as he says in the first paragraph of his first chapter: “The island of Patmos is a place of power. It changes people.”

btw… from a writer’s point of view, isn’t that a great opener? And actually, if you back up a few pages to the “Introit,” you’ll find an equally compelling beginning: “’Spit on him,’” said the bishop. So I spat.” I’m hooked, aren’t you?

The spitting refers to part of the ancient sacrament of baptism in the Orthodox Church, wherein the adult convert spits on the devil. You turn to the west for this spitting, because “the dominion of Satan was in the west, the place of darkness.”

These are just inklings of the colorful descriptions of life amongst the Orthodox on the island of Patmos. Stories of priests and monks and nuns and everyday folk who live their lives just down the street from some of the most revered holy places in all of Orthodoxy. Lives interspersed with the daily stuff of finding whatever products are available in the markets that day for your evening meal as well as celebrating that meal with enthusiasm and extravagance, despite the universal Greek motto, “Pan metron Ariston” (“Moderation is best”).

I loved France’s description of a typical evening scene at a café:

By around ten o’clock, families were arriving…. Children of all ages were chasing cats around the square and being called back to tables piled high with food. Inside the café the jukebox was playing passionate Greek music and three old men danced in a grizzled circle, connected by the handkerchiefs they jointly held, their movements fluid and controlled, as if they, and not the music, were in charge. Their heads were thrown back and half-smiles lit their faces, as if they knew all about passion, had felt it and could feel it again. They were dancing for themselves and not for the people watching, but they were applauded and cheered when the record came to an end.

I realized something important: the people applauding were their friends and relations. This was not a show put on for the tourists but the way life was lived on the island before the tourists found it. And the most striking thing about their approach to life was its intensity, its urgency…. Their lives were being lived fully in the present.

Okay, we can all enjoy this imagery, and yes, I’m looking forward to the music and dancing and candid glimpses I hope to get of the local Patmians and their lifestyle. (We’re staying on the island for three days of our trip to Greece next month.) But I also look forward to the more somber side of the pilgrimage. Later in the book, France says:

Patmos is the place to read St. John’s Gospel, and not just because he once walked here…. But there is a danger in reading St. John on Patmos. It is that the surroundings, the atmosphere and finally the people might come to persuade you that he speaks the truth. Secure in the post-Christian rationalism of the West, we can enjoy his flights of spiritual imagery as colorful and poetic indulgences from an age before science. But when you live amongst people who have not rejected the spiritual dimension in their lives, his words are sharper; they point not to fantasy but to reality.

No spoiler alerts here. Read the book for it’s amazing balance of what France calls “reason and emotion, aesthetic sense and spiritual sensitivity.” Patmos. A Place of Healing For the Soul.

My second thing to say about healing for the soul has to do with death. Specifically, the death of a dear friend’s father, this morning. Lt. Colonel Damon Jr. Boiles, Sr. was 89. He and his wife, Thelma, who died in 2006, were members at my parish here in Memphis. His son, Damon Boiles, Jr., and their grandson, Damon Boiles, III are my Godsons. His daughter-in-law Madeleine is my Goddaughter. He loved antique clocks, like the one in this picture. So when she called early this morning to tell us that he had died, we knew just what to do to start the process of healing for the soul… we told them to meet us at the church for Trisagion Prayers for the Dead.

My husband, Father Basil, is an Orthodox Priest. At noon today, he led us in the prayer service. We were joined by a few friends from the neighborhood who also attend St. John . It was a brief spiritual interlude into a day which is, for the departed one’s family, filled with paperwork, phone calls, funeral plans to be made, and all that attends a death. The prayers will be prayed again tomorrow morning at the Divine Liturgy. Then on Monday, when Mr. Boiles’ body is brought to the church, there will be yet another time of prayer, followed by an all-night vigil at which parishioners read the Psalms. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, September 25—just one day before the Feast Day of the Falling Asleep of St. John, our patron saint, which brings us back full circle to Patmos, a place of healing for the soul. The Prayers for the Dead bring healing to the soul, because they are an outpouring of love for someone who has not ceased to exist, as some definitions of death would have us believe. They have only entered a higher plane of living, where “there is no more pain or death or sighing.”

Back to the significance of September 18. Another of my Godchildren, Mary Allison Callaway, was killed by a drunk driver on that day in 1998. She was only twenty years old. She was from Jackson, Mississippi, but was living with my family in Memphis for a time, working, establishing residency, and planning on attending school here.

So, today as we prayed for Mr. Boiles, I remembered Mary Allison and the joy she brought to our family for the eight months she was in our home. And as we sang “Memory Eternal!” at the end of the Trisagion Prayers for Mr. Boiles today, I thought about how it was the same healing words that we had sung last week, at the 9-year memorial service for Mary Allison. Because prayer heals. And the Holy Apostle John heals. Today. At St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Just as powerfully as he did, and still does, on the island of Patmos.

I’ll be there (on Patmos) in three weeks, by God’s grace. And you can bet I’ll be lighting candles for Mr. Boiles and Mary Allison and quite a few others when we get to the cave where St. John wrote.

Holy Apostle John, pray to God for us.

P.S. Tomorrow… check out my guest post, “We Don’t Care How They Do It in New York” on A Good Blog is Hard to Find: Musings From Southern Authors.

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