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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Quilts as Tangible Memories and Bequeathed Love

by Jean Anderson Dunham, guest contributor

QuiltRose triangle bead quilt (photo: Carson Too)

If there is one tangible object that represents my mother, it would be a quilt. She spent my childhood making beautiful patterns: lone stars, flying geese, double wedding rings. Each stitch was exactly even and the corners of the fabric joined together just right.

She was a perfectionist, my mother, and at times was a little too hard on us. I tried to be the daughter she thought I should be. And I never smiled right in pictures. But to my mother, if things were perfect, she could love.

I now know this fear was a sign of deeper hurt and that she longed for love in ways her own mother couldn’t provide. But I have these quilts, these beautiful transitional objects, and they remind me of her.

Jean Dunham is a child psychiatrist living in Austin, Texas. She curates articles and images she finds interesting on her Tumblr at roots and wings.


Pope John Paul II’s “Healing of Memories” Between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West

by Dr. Adam DeVille, guest contributor

Pope John Paul II Helped by Greek Orthodox ArchbishopIn Damascus, Syria on May 7, 2001, Pope John Paul II is helped by Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios Laham III after praying at the Church of St. Paul on the Wall. (photo: Enric Marti/AFP/Getty Images)

As the world watches Pope John Paul II being beatified, I want to reflect on one phrase he used almost from the beginning of his papacy through to the end, a phrase of great significance for human psychology, human history, and human harmony: the “healing of memories.”

When he was elected in 1978, his fellow cardinal and Pole, Stefan Wyszyński, reportedly told John Paul that the latter’s mission was to lead the Church into the third millennium. To do that, the pope began laying the groundwork by dealing with some of the problems from the first and second millennia. Memories of those problems — divisions among Christians, persecution, the use of violence to propagate the faith — continued to haunt the church.

As a phenomenologist with an acute insight into the human condition, the pope knew that memories of past hurts must be acknowledged before one can move on. He wanted the Church to move on freely and joyfully into the third millennium, and so he made it a priority to work for the healing of memories.

Of those memories whose healing he not only called for but actively worked towards, none were as long-standing as the memories of division between Western and Eastern Christians. Christians have memories of three periods of especially painful division: the aftermath of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, in which Christians in Syria, Egypt, and Armenia divided from the rest of the Church over the question of the nature of Christ; the so-called Great Schism of 1054, when the leaders of the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople attempted to excommunicate one another; and then, of course, the Western divisions of the sixteenth-century Reformation.

John Paul felt that the East-West split was the one with the greatest possibility of being healed, perhaps even in his lifetime. That view was a touch too optimistic, perhaps even naive, but it was charming and inspiring in its hopefulness.

He did more to advance East-West healing than any pope before him. No other pope, for example, had ever written a fulsome letter like John Paul did in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, asking humbly for other Christians to tell him what was wrong with his office and how to fix it. Such a request was, and is, utterly unprecedented in papal history.

Pope John Paul II Embraces Greek Orthodox PatriarchOn November 27, 2004, Pope John Paul II embraces Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I during an Ecumenical Celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pontiff also returned relics of two early Christian saints aiming to establish unity among the two Christian churches. (photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

How did the Christian East respond? Here we see anew the importance of healing memories. Too many Eastern Orthodox Christians, in 1995 and still today, looked on the papal request as a ruse designed to trick them into surrendering. One Orthodox priest I know — who works with Catholics daily and is very open and friendly — said that John Paul’s request was a bit like being “hugged by a bear.” He wants to love you, and you want to let him love you, but you have memories of being mauled in the past and the scars to show it, so you remain mistrustful.

That mistrust, sadly, remains high among many Eastern Christians, of whom I am one. When you have a thousand years — and more — of division behind you, it takes time to overcome such longstanding memories of division and discord. What is especially sad and difficult to see are those Eastern Christians who have no interest in letting go of their hurts, who refuse all healing because they think — like people who believe childhood vaccines cause autism no matter how many times the science debunks this nonsense — that the “medicine” will kill them. When the pope talks about the healing of memories, some regard him as a kind of Dr. Evil figure, uttering soothing platitudes designed only to brainwash unsuspecting Orthodox into accepting their new status as automatons under papal domination and control.

How does one heal memories, both legitimate and neurotic — if not psychotic? Here I find the work of the French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas — whom John Paul surely read — to be very important. Levinas’s great insights were what he called the “ethics of the face” and the dangers of abstraction. For Levinas, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, he knew that it is much easier to malign someone, to be dismissive of and divided from others — even to kill them — when I do not have to acknowledge their humanity and look them in the face. I can abstractly consign someone to a racial, ethnic, or religious category and thereby dehumanize them.

But if I undergo what Levinas stressed repeatedly — the face-to-face encounter — then it is much harder for me to dismiss someone as a “dirty papist,” a “perfidious Byzantine” or a “Russian schismatic.” The face-to-face encounter is the beginning of the healing of memories of past hurts and divisions.

That is why it is so important for Catholics and Orthodox — Eastern and Western Christians — to begin to engage one another on the most basic level: in their neighborhoods, in their local communities, wherever they find themselves working, playing, and praying together. Once we acknowledge our shared humanity and begin to build not merely bridges but friendships and relationships, we not only heal past memories but create new ones in proleptic remembrance (what Scripture calls anamnesis) of the unity that is happening and is to come.

As we honor the memory of Pope John Paul II, by any measure one of the outstanding figures of our time, we have to continue his work of healing the memories of East-West division so that Christians may be united so that the world may believe (John 17:21).

Correction: The first photo caption incorrectly labeled Gregorios Laham III as Syrian Greek Orthodox Archbishop. This has been updated to Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch.

Adam DeVilleAdam DeVille is author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity and assistant professor of theology at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He’s also the editor of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies and blogs regularly at Eastern Christian Books.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


Sharing Love with a Woman I Hardly Know

by Destiny Dorozan, guest contributor

The Platform of Surrender
"The Platform of Surrender" (photo: Anna Gay/Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While going through the process of divorcing my husband, living as a single mother with my daughter, working full time in a classroom for severely physically and cognitively disabled children, and going to college full time in the evenings, I began to ponder what true love is. It was during this time that I had the following experience with a wonderful lady, Ms. Fran.

Ms. Fran comes every day to our class, to help us feed one of our students at lunchtime. Her hands gnarled with age, she folds his fingers around the spoon, helping him grip it. Suddenly one day, she turned, leaned into me, and said, “I was very blessed. I had an excellent husband. Fifty-two years, and he died nine years ago. He was a loving husband, an excellent father, and a friend.”

She smiled on that last bit, knowing that everything else grew out of that friendship.

“He treated me like a princess, always brought me flowers for no reason. One time I asked him why he brought them: Did he do something wrong he was trying to make up for?”

He scoffed at her. He told her she deserved the flowers “because you’re a good girl.”

Ms. Fran apologized to her husband for the doubt and explained, “I never asked why again when he brought me flowers. He just kept bringing them, and I kept accepting them for 52 years.”

Today, we celebrated Fran’s birthday in class. We got her a bouquet of flowers and a cake. I was the first to sign the card, and I wrote, “Because you’re a good girl.”

I wrote it good and big across the top. When she read it, her eyes watered, her fingers shook, and she stopped to give me a second hug before she continued reading. She said, “That brings back memories. God bless you.”

After lunch was over, she leaned toward me again and said, “I’ll remember that forever. Thank you.”

This morning, I kept thinking ‘I just want to be special to someone, to share some special relationship, each recognizing the universal love in each other and sharing in it together.’ I had been thinking of how lucky she was to have had the beautiful relationship with her husband and, of course, couldn’t help but wish that I will find that for myself.

Having this experience made me realize that it is not just an experience between two sweethearts. It happens any time two people recognize in each other the love of the universe manifest — become connected by it, share mutually in it. That is what true love is, not the desires of the ego.

Today, I had the experience of sharing love with a woman I hardly know, celebrating her 79th birthday. Life continues to be more surprising, inspiring, and fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. Contented sighs and prayers of gratitude follow.

Destiny DorozanDestiny Dorozan is a student of Clinical Psychology at the University of Detroit Mercy, mother to a beautiful flower, Lily, and a published poet. Her poetry can be found in the online journals Rogue Poetry Review and The Ambassador Poetry Project.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.