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June 30, 2020

from Lead Me, Guide Me, by Kathy Ewing

“Everything is very simple. I can see this so well now,” he said. “We make life complicated. We start wars. We create conflict. We worry. But all everyone really wants are family, sharing a meal, playing some games, having fun. Even Donald Trump. That’s all he really wants. But we make everything complicated. All we really want is to be with family and friends and find joy in one another.”

That was what he wanted to tell me. I inferred that he wanted me to share it, so I wrote it down, and here it is. I’m sharing it now. He repeated some version of these thoughts several times during my visit.

I asked him what he’d learned. How was this realization different from what he had known before? “When I look back,” he said, “I see times when I thought I understood things better than I did. I saw them in a complicated way and was sure I had them all figured out. I couldn’t see through to the simple need, the simple humanity. I couldn’t see the simplicity.”

“All people want,” he repeated, “is someone to love them, someone to talk to them, someone just to provide a little bit of care.”

—Kathy Ewing, Lead Me, Guide Me

June 26, 2020

from Lead Me, Guide Me, by Kathy Ewing

Before you dismiss his attitudes as simplistic and Pollyanna-like, you need to understand how Father Dan spent his time, amidst more darkness and pain than most of us ever encounter. He sat by countless bedsides of people dying and performed hundreds of funerals, averaging three or four a week in recent years. In his large family, he witnessed debilitating illnesses and terrible accidents. Seven years ago, the diocese of Cleveland ripped away his church, his community, and his home of thirty years. He counseled victims of incest, rape, and other abuse. He had a special ministry to people with addiction. He endured his own profound losses of parents, siblings, and friends. He himself suffered various ailments, even before the cancer that took his life. He knew and loved way too many people who died of gunshot wounds, suicide, and overdoses. He saw and confronted injustice everywhere.

No wonder that sometimes the good cheer gave way to dark humor and startling bluntness. I’ve heard more than one sermon in which he said, “You know those people Jesus healed? They’re all dead now.” He meant that Jesus didn’t come to take away our problems. In fact, if you choose faith, you often choose a harder way. A few months ago, I heard him preach, “Our stories never end happily. It’s always a sad ending.” Of course, he had profound faith in an ultimate happy ending, but he was talking about the end of our lives on earth. “Life always has a tragic ending,” he said, and I thought then he was preparing us for what came on Saturday.

The astonishing thing about Father Dan is not his sunny optimism. It’s that it was so hard won. It’s true he was blessed with a sanguine temperament, but in order to deal with exhausting pain in his life and ministry, he dived deep and prayed. He spent hours alone in nature, alone with Scripture, alone with music. He deliberately worked his way through grief and sadness. When I asked him once why he was so happy, he said, “It’s a decision, it’s conscious, and it’s a habit.” He didn’t avoid the dark tunnel. He chose it. He entered it willingly and suffered his way to the bright light at the end.

—Kathy Ewing, Lead Me, Guide Me: The Life and Example of Father Dan Begin

June 24, 2020

from Singing the Land, by Chila Woychik

Makes sense Iowa feels home to me. Crop plats so large you drive a mile and the spread keeps going. They say South Dakota’s are even bigger, some five or seven miles square.

Grandpa’s piddly seven acres behind the old Illinois homestead with a kitchen pump handle and no other plumbing grew corn. The John Deere tractor’s flywheel took all that three-hundred-pound man could give it before the characteristic pop pop popping began. But he didn’t work those rows for nothing; his payout was mealtime when he ate and ate and ate. Half a dozen eggs, half a pound of bacon for breakfast. Sausage gravy and biscuits some days. Roast and potatoes, supper. Fried chicken. Corn on the cob. And homemade pies tasty as anything you ever had. The crank on the ice cream maker hardened along with the ice cream when the rock-salted ice started melting in earnest.

This was our growing-up, the land and seasons, the old-timey meals and the Hicksville blood running agrestic, green, and good. But our strange breed also had a German mother, as European as they get, strange indeed when you realize we settled smack in the middle of a provincial Midwest. Mother, lover of all things wurst: knockwurst, liverwurst, bierwurst. Maker of spaetzle and dumplings, red cabbage and rouladen. A small cold beer with each dinner meal.

The palate learned diversity that way, tongue split along the lines of Bavarian and backwoods. I took a twenty-year hiatus from that lineage to experience urbanity, discovered fine restaurants hold charm, hefty prices, and unique savor-jumpers, but even so, those memories of youth hover hard, and I’ve never junked the urge for home-cooked meals.

In my own kitchen, I fumble, knowledge, a lost vision in the presence of such worthy childhood ghosts. The acumen, I have, but lacking is desire, except the desire to be a child again alongside Mutti’s counter, watching her make Bavarian Zwetschgenkuchen, fresh plum cake, attuning my ears to her lovely throaty phrases, hearing an old German polka record spinning on the turntable. Or in Illinois Grandma’s cold winter / hot summer home where I felt secure, ran free, and feral, where her third-grade education and stories of working in the humid Arkansas cottonfields at age eleven gave rise to imagination and family strength and a can-do spirit of endurance still bound tightly to our pith in the face of each new adversity.

—Chila Woychik, Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology