Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tribute to Mary Sawyer (by Gary Guthrie)

Last week two good friends of mine died - Mary Sawyer on Wednesday, May 20, and Father Pat Geary on Saturday, May 23. 

Mary visited me once in Honduras and here is a photo taken in the Mayan Ruins in Copán Ruinas. 


I really haven't had time to really reflect on these losses and on the legacy they left. I hope to do that later this week. 

But I want to share this tribute to Mary by a good friend, Gary Guthrie.

In Loving Memory of Mary Sawyer by Gary Guthrie

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in his book, Holy Longing, defines a saint this way: a saint is someone who wills one thing. For example, Mother Teresa is someone who willed one thing and did it very well for many years. By this definition perhaps many  would agree that Mary is certainly a saint! Her desire for community and thus the loving action that would and can come from that community would help heal the world’s brokenness.

Nancy and I first met Mary shortly after we returned from El Salvador. Perhaps it was even at the Romero commemoration in Des Moines on March 24, 1990. When we ended up living in Des Moines our paths would cross. I don’t know who started the conversation but I think it was Mary, but she wanted a group of folks to get together to share scripture and our faith lives and looking for ways to put our faith into practice. This led to a small ecumenical, but mostly Catholic, faith community based on the Base Christian Communities in Latin America. Eventually because of life circumstances our group disbanded but time and time again Mary kept mentioning her strong desire for community.

Mary was a prophet. This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Much of the work of the Spirit in our world and lives is about renewal. For those who have a prophetic spirit (only about 10% of the population) their ardent desire is to renew society. “This world’s systems of power and privilege are, therefore, subservient to God’s transforming will for peace, justice and human rights. The social activist confronts the power bases of injustice and inequity in the Name of the coming One, whose world this is.  Choosing this spirituality guarantees stress. Conflict and stress become the marks of the effective and faithful Christian in this world. No peace until wars cease, No rest until justice is established..” Urban T. Holmes

If the above quote doesn’t describe Mary I don’t think anything could! As a sociologist Mary was taught to observe and describe and she could see what was wrong with the way Christian religion was being practiced as it relates to the Good News of the Gospel. All one has to do is read the title to her last book, The Church on the Margins, Living Christian Community and one can see how her desire for community was the One Thing that she willed. Allow me to quote from the back cover, “The contours of Christianity in America are changing. They are changing, in part, because of the direct and indirect influence of marginalized populations whose understandings and lived expressions of Christianity differ qualitatively from establishment Christianity. In The Church on the Margins, Mary Sawyer argues that a key difference in the Christianity of ethnic minorities, feminist women and gay men and lesbians is the centrality of “community”-gospel-based community that emphasizes the values of inclusiveness, justice and caring in order to transform the larger world.”

A number of years ago Mary connected with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters and joined an associates group in Des Moines. Eventually Nancy and I were invited to join. In that group and subsequently in her move to Dubuque it was fitting that in a small or large way she was surrounded by an inclusive community that loved her unconditionally to the very end. For that we are very grateful that Mary found her peace at last. Now it is up to us to pick up her work for justice wherever we find ourselves.

The following prayer that Nancy and I read this morning from the Franciscan psalter seemed sooo appropriate as we were praying and reflecting on our friendship with Mary over the years:
O God, you send forth your Spirit and we are created, and so we pray:
You who are Truth, - make us free to speak the truth with courage.
You who are Fire, - set us ablaze with the passion of the Good News.
You who are Gentleness, - give us a listening ear and a tender spirit so we might reveal you to those who are wounded and weak.
You who are Life, - raise up all who have died. 

We love you Mary! Pray for us, intercede for us so like Francis and Clare we might follow God ever more closely.


1 comment:

leerainboth said...

Thank you for sharing, John. I had Mary as a professor and adviser at ISU and know that her wisdom has inspired me and many other students to view the world through love and justice in beautiful new ways. These words are a lovely tribute to her.