On Thursday, we celebrated the life of Charlene Ruth Beethoven as we proclaimed the hope of resurrection. Char and I first met at the beginning of our second semester at UVA. I had not yet become a part of the Wesley Foundation or Wesley Memorial UMC. I was still actively engaged with conference youth activities. I wanted to go to a retreat on Christian ministry as a career at Blackstone but didn’t have a ride. Another friend—Mike Campbell at R-MC in Ashland--put me in touch with Steve Turner, who was getting a ride to the retreat from Charlene. Steve introduced us and we discovered we were both in Dan Via’s Intro to the New Testament class. Riding to the retreat and back was an amazing experience. We sang practically the whole roundtrip. In fact, I was committed to join the choir at WMUMC before I had ever attended. This led naturally to being a part of the Wesley Foundation, a significant turning point in my life.
At the service, one of the three non-clergy to speak in witness spoke of Char as a “restorer.” She had welcomed him in to the fold of her sons’ friends which meant for all intents and purposes being welcomed into her family. He spoke of how she helped mend the crack in his foundation largely by being herself which meant to embrace people and receive them joyously no matter what they might have done in life. This is grace in action.
We all know of Char’s eloquence in the pulpit, of the beautiful weddings she celebrated, of the magnificent and almost unending table she spread, and so much more. I also know of the depth of her spirit. While decades-long friends, Char and I also served as pastors to one another. Even when the miles on I-95 were too tough to travel, we spoke on the phone, listening to one another, asking the questions that helped lead to discernment, offering challenges from different perspectives. We heard each other’s grief and pain. We celebrated together. In gatherings, I often sat at the edge of the circle—as I often do—observing the breadth of her embrace of everyone. I watched as I also knew her insecurities and fears which only made the whole of Charlene more beautiful. She was, and is, a deeply complicated woman with so many rich textures and tones in the folds of her life. I see in her an intricate patterned weaving where the yarns are varied in hue and texture. I hear her in a glorious melody enhanced with haunting harmonies. I look into the pools of her brown eyes and see love.
That love will never leave me. She is a part not only of the fabric of my life; she is part of the dance of our God who is ever moving in the give and take of grace—pure concern for the other. We will continue to dance together.
From dust we have come; to dust we shall return. And in that dust we are with God with is the very ground of our being.