In Memory of Her

The fragrance of remembering

I’m in a floral mood these weeks. Because I’m spending so much time on Zoom and in virtual events, the beauty of spring has been the perfect counterpoint to the flatness of the screen. Last week, I wrote of dogwoods. Today, as I rounded a corner on my walk, a lilac-perfumed breeze met me — a half-block distant from my neighbor’s purple bush in full bloom.

Lilacs are such an old-fashioned flower. They conjure visions of my Aunt Marcie, the elderly aunt who raised my grandfather when his own mother abandoned him. Born in 1885, she was a radical Methodist suffragist, temperance crusader, and career woman whose door was always open to those needing a place of safety and a good meal. Every spring, her yard was a lilac forest, and vases of their floral bounty filled every room in her home. I loved sitting with her on the porch swing, paging through her library of worn books, and exploring her dusty Victorian attic — when lilacs scented every corner of the rambling old house.

I hadn’t thought of Aunt Marcie in some months. Until today. When the lilacs brought her back to mind. Without Aunt Marcie’s generosity in adopting my grandfather, I probably never would have been born. And her story echoes in mine. My life is, in significant measure, in memory of her. Yet until the lilacs reminded today, she too often recedes from my mind.

The experience of lilac perfume and a nearly-forgotten woman recalls one of the most moving of all biblical stories — the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus. I imagine the air of the room thick with perfume, Jesus linking the act with the unforgettable scent, the disciples overcome with fragrant awe. They all believed the moment would never pass from memory. Yet it does.

I wrote of the loss of memory and women who disappear in Freeing Jesus:

The opening image from Fiorenza’s In Memory of Her made me gasp. “In the passion account of Mark’s Gospel three disciples figure prominently,” she wrote. Those three were Judas, Peter, and “the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus.” Fiorenza claims, “While the stories of Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the story of the woman is virtually forgotten. Although Jesus pronounces in Mark: ‘And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’” Yet, as Fiorenza notes, the woman has been largely passed over; “even her name is lost to us.” The women had disappeared to history—the very woman whom Jesus promised would live in memory. I realized that I didn’t want to disappear—that I wanted to be seen as fully human, to be remembered as one who loved Jesus, and as a faithful follower. I had lived too long in a theological community that erased women, excluded us from the story, and trivialized our experiences of Jesus. I wanted the disappearing act to end (p. 209).

I invite you to imagine how you would like to be remembered, how your memory might be an intoxicating fragrance to those who loved you and whom you loved. May your faithfulness linger like the scent of the lilacs.

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One look at the lilac, one smell
and my childhood is — 

dogs scratching at the sliding
glass door, bits

of bottles coming up

like grass in the grass, a dirty towel
down by the feet

of the tree, Lysol cans, small
packets of Land O’Frost

turkey meat — 
there in front of me in spring,

in the wonderfully fat rain,

flowering purple and whatever
the pinkish purple is called

and the white

ones too.

— Matthew Dickman 

I miss the floral scent of her hair, the perfume that barely masked the underlying truth of what she was. She was lost time. She smelled of dusty libraries and unwound clocks, salted sand and rain riding on the first rays of dawn. And lilac. When she held me to her, lilac was what I smelled first. 
― Courtney M. Privett

Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed, and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms. Oh, get up, dear friend, my fair and beautiful lover - come to me!
— Song of Solomon 2:13 (The Message)



Keep up with the FREEING JESUS virtual book tour!

Here are some links to book events you may have missed — and that I hope you’ll enjoy! Please listen and share with your friends.


A warm and wide-ranging conversation about Jesus and justice.
From the show notes: Award-winning author and preacher, Diana Butler Bass speaks with Rev. Jim Wallis about her latest book Freeing Jesus. Diana shares how her experience of Jesus has changed over the years and how the Christian that is she is today is much different than she was before. CLICK HERE to listen.


In case you missed last week’s bookstore event with me and Nadia, here it is! CLICK HERE to listen.


This one is for all my theology nerd friends!
From the show notes: Mason chats with Diana Butler Bass about her brand new book, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence. They chat about the Jesus of experience, how process theology influences her understanding of Jesus, and much more. CLICK HERE to listen.



Two bookstore events this week — I hope you can come to one or the other!

THURSDAY APRIL 15 at 7:00 PM (eastern)

Author talk and Q&A, hosted by a great independent bookstore in partnership with Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ. For more info and to register CLICK HERE.

FRIDAY APRIL 16 at 7:00 PM (eastern)

The Cathedral Bookstore and The Cathedral of St. Philip (Atlanta) proudly announce a special virtual event featuring Diana Butler Bass, PhD as we host a book talk on her newest book. The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler, Dean of the Cathedral, will be our special guest moderator. For more info and to register, click HERE.

For additional events, visit my website.

STUDY GUIDE NOW AVAILABLE for FREEING JESUS. You can download it from my website.