The first corner of the maze

Today I reluctantly leave Saint John’s University, a day earlier than originally planned. People need me back in Milwaukee and rainstorms are on the way to chase me out of Minnesota. But just as it was special for Hal in its architecture and nature and its position halfway between his two homes, Saint John’s will remain special for me the rest of my life. I’m sure I’ll return regularly to the place that lifted me enough to look grief in the eye and not blink.

The ceiling of the Zen space at the Episcopal House of Prayer,
Saint John’s.

It’s not hard to get an intellectual understanding of life and death. Sacred books and science books are converging on the same conclusions. What we see, hear, touch, taste and smell is only the constantly changing clothing of reality. It’s how the world looks, not what the world is. What we perceive with our individual minds as the loss of someone we love is only a change of clothes, from the temporary back to the eternal.

To feel that, to not merely know it or say it but believe it, is the challenge of a lifetime. It’s a fearsome challenge. To accept that the person I loved most in the world, the most widely beloved person I ever knew, will never again be next to me in human form saddens and frightens me almost to death.

We’re all called to face the challenge of change and loss. When we meet that challenge, we not only conquer our own suffering, we live better for everyone. We understand the world is not about our selves. It’s about the unending, un-bodied self containing all of us. What Zen practitioners call the absolute and Christ called the Father. This may be what physical life and death are here to teach us.

Hal used to say one of the secrets to any building is not the building but how it lets light in. The building is the container of the light. Hal also called light the key to any painting. As our friend and fellow artist Richard mentioned in his eulogy, Hal was obsessed with capturing his subjects in the perfect light and translating that to the canvas. If he had the light right, the rest fell into place.

I didn’t finish the challenge of grief here at Saint John’s. Like everything else in life, it doesn’t feel like a direct path to a certain goal. I know it will have twists and turns and reverses. But in this place where nature and knowledge, East and West, contemplation and action, solemness and cheerfulness all meet at one beautiful point my soulmate cherished and remains in presence, I think I turned the first corner of the maze, into a wider section where light starts to come in.

3 thoughts on “The first corner of the maze

  1. Thanks for sharing. Am reading a great book that mirrors your words.
    The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
    by Francis Weller
    Highly recommend.


    1. I’m getting some great reading recommendations – I’ll put this on the list, sounds great. Isaac’s mountain-climbing pictures are making me woozy (which isn’t such a bad thing)…


  2. Thanks for sharing your Journey so beautifully and openly…. Are you familiar with the work of an Irish Poet & Philosopher (& former priest) who passed away suddenly not long after giving this great Interview on NPR’s “On Being”? [I picked up “Anam Cara” after my mother died and found it very comforting]

    Here is his website:


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