Monday, April 25, 2016

Lars Levi's Cousin, Mor Greta

I stumbled across this fascinating article about Mor Greta, a cousin and contemporary of Lars Levi Laestadius. It helps contextualize the distrust of authority in the North.
Margareta Sophia better known as "Mor Greta" (1804-1883) . . . took part in the movement against the Swedish state church. Mor Greta and the group the “New Readers” protested against usage of the new church books that were introduced in 1819. These manuals gave the priests monopoly on preaching and other church ceremonies, something that was very impractical when emergency baptism was sometimes needed in the north of Sweden and the priest could be miles away. Those who did not obey the law were persecuted; and if it was repeated they were banished for two years. 
Mor Greta and the New Readers protested against that . . .​ were punished, and the police force tried to imprison them. Mor Greta, being a woman, was not imprisoned, but taken to UmeĆ„ hospital for the insane as punishment. But the doctor at the hospital did not find anything wrong with her, refused to hospitalize her, and released her immediately.

How did a woman in the north of Sweden dare to oppose the powerful Swedish state church in the 1830s? 
One explanation is that Mor Greta and Nils had eleven children, but five died before the age of one. That must have been a trauma and the family had need for emergency baptism. Before they had been able to do that without a priest present, but after the new churchbooks, that became illegal. The families had to take the newborn from the mother and go (by ski in winter) 10 kilometers to the church and then back for the baptism. Not many newborns survived those journeys.
Read the rest of the article here, and another, in Swedish, here.

A personal note: according to, Mor Greta is my "third cousin once removed's husband's first cousin twice removed" and it would not surprise me to find a genetic connection as well. I am deeply moved by her suffering, and the suffering of all our foremothers for whom childbearing, often begun in adolescence, was such a relentless, painful burden, so frequently ending in death. Five babies? Had it been me, I'm sure I would have lost my mind.

Friday, April 22, 2016

So Blue

Prince died yesterday.

It still seems improbable. He was only 57. Two years older than me.

Last night we went with friends to see blues singer Joan Osborne at Jazz Alley, and when she began sing "I never meant to cause you any sorrow," I found myself awash in tears. It wasn't as if I was a huge fan. I never saw him in concert. And yet!

Sometimes we feel deeply the loss of a person who has helped us, somehow, know ourselves. Prince's music was part of the sound track of my liberation as a young person and it became inextricably a part of me.

Like him, I was born in Minneapolis, into a strict, minority religion (his was Seventh-Day Adventist), but it might as well have been Mars for the distance between our lives. Listening again to "So Blue," the confidence and restraint he possessed at 19 reveal not only a phenomenal talent, but thousands of hours of listening, of absorbing the blues into his being. My own childhood was virtually soundproofed.

In my late teens, exposed to a dizzying variety of music, I remember being simultaneously repelled by and attracted to Prince's stage persona. He was pushing at boundaries I didn't even know existed, many of which seem tame now, even sweet, like his ruffled blouses and eyeliner (same with David Bowie.)

A college roommate who played guitar schooled me on Prince's musical skill (when Eric Clapton was asked what it was like to be the world's greatest guitar player, he responded that he didn't know, to go ask Prince). On our enormous boom boxes, or the richest roommate's stereo, on dark dance floors or the car radio, my friends and I had to dance whenever Prince was playing. We knew the words to Raspberry Beret, Little Red Corvette, I Wanna Be Your Lover, et al, and we weren't shy about using them, in and out of context.

The first time I heard the album Purple Rain was while playing (or trying to play) tennis near Leschi Beach, with my roommate Tari, now a rural doctor. She was intent on teaching me the sport. It was a beautiful summer day, with more laughter and dancing than successful volleys.

These are happy memories.

No doubt many words will be written about Prince's legacy, with the usual cycle of veneration followed by denigration (it happens so quickly now). I'll ignore it. It doesn't matter. Not to him certainly, not to the lives he touched.

It's time to be blue, and grateful.

Do you have a Prince memory to share?

For another perspective, read this, by someone who was taught that Prince's music was sinful.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Not Here

The following just showed up in my Facebook feed from author Elizabeth Gilbert, whose The Signature of All Things I read last year and can highly recommend. It is a well-researched, globe-trotting, rollicking tale about a fictional 19th-century botanist who couldn't be more different than the 19th-century botanist whose career change gave rise to Laestadianism. Both were champions, however, at saying NOT THIS. Let me know what you make of Elizabeth Gilbert's in the comment section.


Dear Ones -

Most of us, at some point in our lives (unless we have done everything perfectly...which is: nobody) will have to face a terrible moment in which we realize that we have somehow ended up in the wrong place — or at least, in a very bad place.

Maybe we will have to admit that we are in the wrong job. Or the wrong relationship. With the wrong people around us. Living in the wrong neighborhood. Acting out on the wrong behaviors.

Using the wrong substances. Pretending to believe things that we no longer believe. Pretending to be something we were never meant to be.

This moment of realization is seldom fun. In fact, it's usually terrifying.

I call this moment of realization: NOT THIS.

Because sometimes that's all you know, at such a moment.

All you know is: NOT THIS.

Sometimes that's all you CAN know.

All you know is that some deep life force within you is saying, NOT THIS, and it won't be silenced.

Your body is saying: "NOT THIS."

Your heart is saying: "NOT THIS."

Your soul is saying: "NOT THIS."