This is not the first blog post that I had expected to write after an unexpected five month hiatus, but as I sat in Goodson Chapel yesterday listening to people tell their own stories, I felt that I needed to write my own. I did not know Susan Keefe. I had seen her in the hallways with her measured pace and the frail features of the ascetic she was. However, like many of my fellow students, I was in awe of this mysterious professor. She was respected and loved my the whole school, not because she was a brilliant lecturer (which I am sure she was), or for her gregarious personality (which she certainly was not), but because she exuded such an unworldly holiness that one knew the Divinity School was all the more so because of her place in it.
Like many, I participated in rumors of her ascetic practices, but looking back I see even those as being marks of the sense of awe in which she was seen. When selecting classes for this semester, hers was the one I was most excited about, even though because of my year in England, I knew that I was not going to take it. Just having her class on my fake schedule was an honor. And so, when we received the news that she had died, there was a collective sense of loss.
I wanted to write this post because her service reminded me of what funerals and memorial services in the Church need to be. Absent were trite words of comfort and vague phrases of an afterlife. Instead there was a clear confession of the resurrection and a celebration of the grace filled life she had led. Her specialty was Medieval commentaries by obscure theologians, preparing them for other scholars later to come and analyze to use in their own research. Dean Hays called it a “thankless task,” and I am sure it was not one which sold millions of copies because a simple Google image search fails to bring up any pictures of her.
While I will never be able to take her class, her memorial service will be the only lecture I will be able to have, which seems in a way fitting. It reminded me that a life lived in constant love of Christ and seeking to follow His way is one which does separate us from this world, but still keeps us intimately connected to it through our ministry and our relationships. That is the true mark of an ascetic. Not how much they are separated from the world, but how much they bring the world closer to the Kingdom through their place in it. Dr. Keefe did that.
The final lesson I have from her is one which Dean Hays and her family found propped on her desk when they were cleaning it out. Handwritten on a simple sheet of notebook paper it said: “What if you were to say to your congregation: Your baptism was the beginning of your preparation for death.” At our baptism we die to Sin and are reborn to new life through Jesus Christ. It marks us and makes us children of God and when lived out fully prepares us both for our eventual death, but also for the everlasting life which comes afterwards. I do not know the answer to Dr. Keefe’s question, but I intend to find out by sharing those words and with each congregation I have.
Thank you Dr. Keefe, for a life well lived. Amen.