"I've got great memories of coming to this place with Nana, when I was four years old," said Adam sadly, and with a literal tear in his eye. His mum stifled a chuckle, since Adam is now five years and two weeks old, and those lunches with me - Nana - at the creperie next to our supermarket, only date back a few months. However, for him the transition to being a schoolboy is one that involves a certain grief, a letting go of the privileges of sleeping in or having lunch with Nana after Kindy. He is loving school, but rightly senses that his everyday life will never be as it was, even if the Nana concerned will now make sure we go to the creperie for brunch one Saturday soon. He was demonstrating what I thought was quite a subtle awareness of the experience of loss that goes with a new stage in human development, and giving voice to the power of remembrance to sustain us through challenging times.
I have thought of that power of nostalgia this week, as I was reflecting with my spiritual director on a loss of my own, since our house was burgled a few days ago. Thankfully, no damage was done, and no one - human or pet - was injured or worse. But I am slowly coming to terms with the theft of all my jewellery, collected up over decades of birthdays and holidays, much of which is simply irreplaceable. Most precious to me was a series of pectoral crosses - big ones, like bishops wear - that we either bought in unusual places, or commissioned from a manufacturing jeweller to make, to my husband's design. Looking back on the occasions of receiving those gifts, my director and I came up with a couple of reasons why the loss feels especially acute. First, I realised they were part of my journey into ministry. When I was ordained into the Presbyterian ministry in 1975, I had very few role models. Those who were women ministers tended to be older spinsters, and adopted the more formal robes of the liturgical wing of our church. I was different, as young married woman, evangelical rather than sacramental, and within a year or two, a mother as well. I needed to wear something practical and attractive, and an ecumenical alb just didn't work for me. Free Church means just that, so unlike the Anglican women who joined the clergy a decade or so later, I was not required to buy a stock and clerical collar. I chose to wear a smart black suit or skirt, and white lacy collared blouse, and over time added a pectoral cross to the outfit. This I felt, marked me out at weddings, funerals and Sunday services, where people did not expect the celebrant to be a woman, as having a spiritual role to play, without implying any sort of priestly authority. My choice thoroughly accorded with my minister father's explanation that the black gown, white "dog" collar and clerical bands he wore to preach were never meant to be a distinctive uniform, but rather was the normal garb of an educated man - the doctor/lawyer - in Calvin's Geneva four hundred years ago. It was not meant to stand out, but to blend in. For that reason I am comfortable these days with the preference of many ministers just to wear what the members of their congregation are wearing - "smart casual." So my lovely crosses represented to some degree the progress of my gender in gaining respect and acceptance as ordained ministers.
Second, my spiritual friend and I identified the importance of my husband's role in all this. When we met and started dating, at university, he and his family were members of the Open or Plymouth Brethren. This Bible-believing JN Darby tradition seeks to follow the NT pattern and so favours leadership by a plurality of elders over the notion of ordained ministers. In New Zealand in the 70's, its chapels usually had no paid leadership or staff, though that has changed a good deal. And its elders were invariably men, and forty years later that has only changed in some NZ assemblies. So you can imagine what the Coleman family and church folk thought when he brought home a Presbyterian theological student! They didn't believe in ministers, and certainly not in women ministers. But my husband, to give him his due, had no issues with it. He is a follower of Jesus, and once he heard the story of my call, which is a fairly convincing "voice of God" experience, he gave me all the permission and support I needed, and ensured I was thoroughly accepted into the family. (The journey from being a mum at home to us relocating in pursuit of my vocation took another twenty years, but that is more about sociology than theology). So for him to design and pay for my precious crosses was profoundly symbolic of his pride and joy in my responding to God's call. No wonder I feel gutted to have lost them, and am following a fairly predictable pattern of grief as I come to terms with a new future, where I will need to find alternative ways to express my identity as one called and sent.
Nostalgia is a word that can come across as perjorative, but this week I have seen that it can also be performative. In the same sense that our sacraments of baptism and communion are enacting the truth of God, so too my lunches with Adam, and my wearing of Ric's crosses, were performing something profoundly meaningful. Perhaps its its own way, nostalgia can be sacramental too.
To Chew Over: What in your life acts as a performative sign? Is there a way in which nostalgia brings you closer to God?
In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o'er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.