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  • Writer's pictureSt. James & Friends

In Memory of Judith Mason

Longtime St. James parishioner Judith Mason went home to Jesus on Friday, March 1, 2024. Judith was a passionate advocate for Christian outreach and education. We celebrated a memorial for Judith on March 10, 2024.


Eulogy by Brian Skene

It is an honor to speak about my friend Judith. About OUR friend, Judith. I won’t be very long, but there are a few things that really capture the essence of Judith in my mind. Judith was like family to me.  I actually told her once that she bore a slight resemblance to my own mom, and there was something in her manner of speaking that was similar, but that’s not what I mean. For Maria, the girls, and me, Judith was in our living room, via Zoom, 3 mornings per week. She was part of Maria’s centering prayer every Wednesday evening. And she was with us, again, via Zoom, every Sunday morning. I know that Judith was very active not very long ago, but I still think of her sometimes like the “Anchoress of Harlem”—peering out at the world through a Zoom window. She was a presence.

 

Judith had many facets to her identity. If I am not mistaken, I believe that she was born in Georgia and grew up in Texas, and you could kind of tell that there was something of a Southern Belle to her—a little curl in her manner of speaking. You could almost imagine her saying “Oh bless your heart!” and knowing exactly what she meant.

 

Judith was super smart and so well educated, studying divinity at Radcliffe and Harvard. Not too shabby. Morning prayer often felt like taking a Master Class with Judith. There are no leaders in morning prayer, but we all have our different roles to play. And Judith’s role was indispensable. On the very last morning prayer before she died, Judith was there, and we were talking at the end of the hour actually about a dating question: what animal would we each be?  Some of us might be a dog. I think Shlomit and I were dolphins. Walter, if I remember correctly would be Sam the Eagle. And Judith would be an owl. I honestly can’t remember if that was the animal she chose for herself, or the animal that we chose for her—but Judith the wise owl fit perfectly. She knew the Bible. She knew the Saints. She could connect the dots between the life of Jesus and the non-violent resistance of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. But it wasn’t simply about knowing the facts—Judith had a passionate commitment for the cause. And the cause might be variable on the surface—it might be civil rights, or marriage equality, or violence against women, or including those on the margins of our society, but on a deeper level, in Judith’s eyes, I believe she saw it all as fundamentally about our relationship with God. I believe that Judith, our wise owl, always connected the dots. She always connected her deep faith with the little acts that make up our everyday lives.

 

I mentioned the many facets of Judith’s identity. Not all of you may know that Judith was known by the moniker the Notorious BRG. I’m not talking about Biggie Smalls. I’m not even talking about Ruth Bader Ginsberg---that’s RBG.  I’m talking about BRG—Bible Rappin’ Grandma. On more than one occasion, Judith would write rap poems—for morning prayer, or maybe for something like someone’s birthday. Now, I’m not gonna lie. I was never 100% comfortable with Bible-rappin’ Grandma. It always felt like Judith was maybe borrowing something culturally that didn’t ask to be borrowed. But there was no denying that it came from a place of deep love. And it was pretty darned funny.

 

Judith could be serious, too. In fact, she could be mind-blowing. She did a morning prayer for us last August that was an introduction to Islam. And as serious a Christian as she was, Judith was delighted to introduce us all to Islam. She understood that there is one God above all humanity. And she included a Sufi poem I had never heard before, written by a poet called Attar. It’s called “The Conference of the Birds.” The poem tells the story of a group of birds of various kinds that go on an epic flight to find their true leader—a legendary bird called the Simorgh. The birds embark on a journey over 7 valleys—the valley of the Quest, where the birds renounce their power, and all of their worldly things. Then they traverse the valleys of Love, of Understanding, of Detachment, of Unity and Astonishment. Even the valley of Deprivation and Death. Some give up the struggle and turn back. Some die along the way. Finally, 30 of the birds reach their final destination. There, one of their own—a bird called the Hoopoe—although it might have been a wise old owl—shows them something they didn’t expect:  a reflecting pool of water. This is where to find the simorgh. They look, and in the pool, they see themselves.  Like the Wizard of Oz, what these birds were looking for was something within themselves all along. The poem, of course, is an allegory about soul’s journey to find God.

 

I was deeply impressed by this story, and it is something that I will always associate with our sage, Judith. She could really blow your mind.

 

I was told a story from Judith’s son Daniel in recent days, and I asked for his permission to borrow it. Many of you know that Judith worked for many years as a chaplain in an HIV/AIDS clinic. She was often with patients who were dying, giving comfort and reassurance, no matter who they were, no matter what they had done with their lives, no matter what their faith. Like the Hoopoe bird, she helped them complete their journey to the divine. As Daniel tells the story, he was home one evening, with his sister Norah and one of her high school friends. And it was late. Quite late, apparently.  Judith arrived home from her unusual job at the clinic. As the story goes, the friend whispered—completely as a joke, I might add—to Norah and Daniel: “I think your mom must be having an affair!!!”

 

Daniel and Norah looked at each other, and said, “Yeah...with GOD…”

 

Now, I think that’s a hilarious punch line, and maybe an apt description of Judith’s faith, but something has to be proclaimed loudly here—Judith ADORED her husband, Alan. I heard her speak glowingly of her husband many times, and she even gave us a video of Alan singing for our All Saints Day remembrance service. I wanted to cry when I heard that. Judith often told the story of Alan’s passing. When his moment came, all was quiet. And then, at that very moment, from outside the window, the strains of the song “Alleluia” could be heard.  I wonder if they both aren’t singing that song together now.

 

My own image of God is something quite fuzzy. I don’t know precisely what Judith’s image of God was, but I suspect it was something much clearer than mine. Whatever your image of God is, I feel very comfortable in saying that Judith is no longer having just an affair with God. I believe that Judith’s union with God—and with Alan—is now perfect and complete. And I know that she is Zooming down on us from Heaven. We love you, Judith, and we will miss you. But we appreciate every moment you gave us. Thank you, my friend, and rest easy.

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