(Cathedral of St. Mary, St. Cloud, Minnesota)
All of my genes come from one county in central Minnesota. Spending time there as a girl with my father’s family, seeing my paternal family name on gravestones in churchyards, hearing my grandmother’s stories about where the first pioneer of our family settled on “that very hill!” My mother’s family, from the same area, was the quiet, present, forbidden topic. I don’t remember a time that my biological parents were together, and rarely visited the area with my mother, so my experience of this county is fragmented, though my relatives may very well have sat next to each other in church.
Last week, I went back there, to St. Cloud, for my great-grandmother’s funeral. I saw the county and its people through my mother’s eyes again–the dozens of people who came to the wake lived on the same roads I’d traversed numerous times with my father’s family, but hadn’t stopped to introduce myself or say hello.
I remember always being so curious about my mother’s family and her own time in St. Cloud where exactly she practiced throwing pots, where her grandparents had lived and worked, the places that meant something to her and to that ancestral half of me.
Running the St. Cloud State campus the morning of the funeral, I realized that my mother’s family was something like God’s family should be for each of us: my father’s family (while visiting the county) was present, obvious–they sat next to me at the dinner table and drove me around; my mother’s family was there too–in the grocery store, perhaps, or walking along the same street toward a movie–I just didn’t know they were next to me, too. God’s family is not always easy to identify–we don’t know who is part of our family in God–but we know as surely as they are part of our blood that they surround us and we belong to each other.
To some degree, we pull away from our families and travel roads unfamiliar. Family lessons inform us, and, to the extent that such lessons were presented with concern and love they provide navigational aids as we travel our unfamiliar path. We all have had to deny mother and father follow the path that beckons, even when father and/or mother are fearful of the consequences.
Becoming a member of the military, becoming a priest, becoming a teacher or other service-worker is a calling we follow whether or not our biological family would have agreed with it. None of these professions are practical. All involve a deep commitment and steadfast commitment to the charge given to us by that Spirit that guides us… into the unfamiliar… into the storms and battles of life.