Alice E. von Storch Worman

posted Jan 31, 2016, 9:32 AM by Saint Andrew   [ updated Feb 1, 2016, 10:55 AM ]

Mary Ellen, Carol, and Meg, the passage from Isaiah you heard Jennifer read is for you:  God comforts those who mourn, he gives us a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  You may not feel like it today but you are oaks of righteousness because you are Alice’s daughters and children of God.

When I first arrived at St. Andrew I thought how elegant you are, all three of you.  You all have a version of the von Storch nose and you wear it beautifully.  All of you will continue to display God’s glory because you are Alice’s daughters. 

Shortly after beginning here as the Interim Rector Alice invited me for a walk at Holden Arboretum – no surprise there.  She was ninety three, and the two of us walked for hours wading through knee high snow.  I learned quickly that Alice LOVED to talk, LOVED a good story and she regaled me with stories of growing up in Yonkers, her extended family, going to Barnard and Mount Union College.  She talked and waded through snow, trudging along and then she’d stop.   She’d stop at a location at Holden where she’d experienced the holy, a thin place where she sensed God’s presence in the past.  She stood completely still, completely quite to take in the place.  Then she’d move on through the snow, entertaining me tales about entering the Women’s Army Corp, going to Union Theological Seminary, studying with a famous theologian by the name of Paul Tillich. 

It was the bicycling and hiking and her experiences after the war that led to a spiritual awakening and her studying at Union.  And then she’d stop again: stock still ( another th

in place for her)  and we’d listen to the wind in the pines or the dark-eyed Junco’s song.  Then she was off again: marching on through the snow as if it was the most important task of the day.  Alice told me about the early days with Bill and the girls, establishing St. Andrew, the enormous work of building and caring for this congregation.  She talked about losing a child, about Barbara and what a special bond she felt she had with her.  She talked about Bill, their marriage, her grief.  She talked about loving life and continuing its adventure for almost thirty more years.      

And then we sat in Holden’s visitor center drank hot tea and talked more.  She loved all of you, her family.  She loved spending time with you.  Her prayer – expressed at our Wednesday morning healing Eucharist or privately - was primarily the prayer of gratitude.  But it was also the prayer of struggle due to ageing, the slow physical diminishment that comes to all of us. Through most of her long life Alice lived so completely in her body, you know she depended on it.  Her body was the means of her experience of living: hiking, learning, skiing, reading, rappelling cliffs, engaging with people, travel, listening to music.  The light in her eyes burned bright for years.  By the time I met her that light was diming.  When I thought of Alice I often thought of Eli and how scripture tells us the lamp of his eye was growing dim.  But I also often think of the Syrophoenician woman when I think of Alice: no faint spirit, she.  Like the Syrophoenician woman Alice was one of deep faith, strength and wit, a light that burned bright with truth.  I’d thought about reading that passage of Christ’s encounter with the Syrophoenician woman as the gospel for today.  But Alice would not have approved and so a sanctioned passage from John’s gospel was chosen, an elegant but often overlooked passage:  “… I will lose nothing of all that God has given me, but raise it up on the last day…”  There is the hope that Alice trusted.

Since Christmas I’ve found myself praying with the image of the risen figure of Christ.  Strange to have that image in my mind when the church is giving us Jesus the newborn babe and we’re singing hymns of Mary and Joseph.  But I’ve found that constant companion that image of Christ who appears, doors locked and windows closed, and there he is standing before us, showing us his wounded hands, his wounded side.  And I realize that God’s self-disclosure comes to us in so many incarnations.  It comes to us as a newborn child, with newborn, translucent perfection and it comes to us as a life fully lived and worn, even wounded.  God’s self-disclosure invites our own in all its perfection and imperfection.  

And then Mary Ellen and Meg shared with me a beautiful letter Alice wrote to her children and grandchildren some time ago.  She left it out for them to find. It was a way for Alice, as she said, “to share the events and deeper impressions that have affected my life.”  I want to share a portion of it with all of you because it speaks to what we’re all feeling today.

I have felt deep grief and this is the hardest to write about.  The loss of a loved one, especially a child is indescribable.  I am writing about Barbara’s sudden death but also your dad’s.  A piece of you dies with them.  Anguish becomes not just a word from the dictionary but a real physical presence within you, tearing your insides out.  It can be overcome but it takes time.  We grieved but were determined not to let it destroy us – our marriage, our family.  Others depended on us, too and it would be unconscionable to add to their grief.  We had to be thankful for the wonderful times we had together.  Without those times we would have missed so much of our lives.  And our faith in God got us through.  I believe that I will be with them both in some other place or dimension which we call heaven – that there they are with all those who have gone before in the presence of Christ.  They are part of our lives in a different way.  We are different because they were here among us.  There is still sorrow and from time to time I still weep, but it has changed.  I don’t want the gap in my life filled.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian wrote:  “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone who we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute:  we must simply hold out and see it through.  That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us.  It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap:  God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

And there is was - the significance of Christ risen from the dead, as we all will be one day – the significance of his first appearances when he displays his human wounds, the gaps, the holes in his body?  No shame, no cover up.  Jesus isn’t resurrected as a shining transfigured godhead, but a human body worn by living.  Perfect imperfection.

I hope we can all hold on to that wisdom.  Follow the wisdom Alice found there and through Bonhoeffer.  Don’t fill the gaps, the wounds, the holes we may feel in our own lives.  Gaps or wounds created by grief, or sin, or loss, or regret.  Don’t try to fill them.  Let them be.  God doesn’t fill them, but keeps them empty and so helps us to keep alive our communion all the more.

            Thank you Alice for being who you are, for your self-disclosure, for giving us Christ’s light and love. 


M. Phillips+

Interim Rector