The Morning Call, December 18, 2016
I knew a caring, compassionate, intelligent, wise and talented man. Though he was authentically religious, he did not wear it on his sleeve. His goodness and spirituality, however, did show on his face. He had an aura.
His smile made you think he was happy to see you. And he was.
He was 91 when he died in 2014. He had been a marine in World War II and the Korean War. He worked as an artist and designer for advertising agencies in New York City and Newark, NJ, and for 34 years for Bethlehem Steel as artist and designer, art director and assistant to the vice president in the Public Affairs Department.
A member of Trinity Episcopal Church, Bethlehem, where he served as Sunday school teacher, member of the Vestry, senior warden and on a number of parish committees, he also served the Diocese of Bethlehem in various capacities and was an elected deputy to five national Episcopal Church General Conventions.
Marius Bressoud was an insightful writer. He wrote with authority, i.e., with integrity and authenticity. He was also an accomplished illustrator and watercolorist.
During the mid 90s, I asked Marius to write reflections on spirituality and aging for our diocesan newspaper. He agreed to provide “not a finished document but a struggle for expression. It may be a more accurate reflection of the human being I really am if it remains unfinished.
“Many people want to ‘wrap everything up’ before they die. A more desirable objective is to be always in the midst of a project, one that keeps me pondering how I might say something more accurately, render a painting more effectively, manage a personal relationship more sensitively.”
Some ten years before he died, Marius and I met for an occasional hour of conversation. I was a bit anxious during those times. Intimate conversation with Marius was out of my league. I was more comfortable admiring what he drew or painted and chewing on what he wrote. Being in his presence, however, seemed a judgment on me.
We once talked about sin. Marius told an old story I had heard, yet it seemed new in his telling.
“The best help I ever received on understanding sin, and specifically my own
sinfulness,” said Marius, “came from an Hasidic Rabbi named Susya of Hanipol, Poland, a Jewish ghetto that desperately needed deliverance from its oppressors.
On one occasion he said to his disciples: When I enter the life to come, they
will not say to me, 'Susya, we needed a deliverer. Why were you not another
Moses?' Rather, they will say to me, 'Susya, why were you not Susya?'
“Nothing I have ever read or heard on retreats or in sermons about sin has influenced my thinking about this subject as has this little tale.”
He wrote later: “‘Marius, why are you not Marius?’ is a wonderfully effective question in judging what I have done or failed to do that is not the best of which I am capable. Nothing has made me more aware of my need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God and with others. It is a question each of us can ask only of ourselves. Not one of us is qualified to ask it of anyone else. Nothing has cured me so thoroughly of judging
I told Marius that my long held theological understanding of that story is that human development requires the reorientations brought about by intellectual, moral and religious conversions. Failure to meet those demands of self-transcendence, i.e., be
all you can be … then be in Love transformed, constitutes the fundamental problem of human living. The problem of authentic human development is one of sustained unauthenticity. Some call it original sin.
Marius was shot during World War II in Okinawa. In a field hospital, a doctor traced the course of the bullet that entered his upper back, went through the torso, exited
from the left armpit and went through the arm, shattering the bone.
“The doctor cleaned bits of cloth and other material out of the entry wound. Were they pieces of a prayer book? I regretted that I had not taken my Book of Common Prayer out of my pack which had been left on the battlefield.
“I’d heard of pocket bibles stopping bullets and thought it might be fun to have an Episcopal prayer book with a hole through it that did not.
“It would have been a fitting symbol of the God I know and worship, one who sustains and strengthens me rather than a magician who shelters me from my own follies and those of others.”
That was the Marius with whom I felt a deep spiritual kinship.
[Canon Bill Lewellis, email@example.com, an Episcopal priest, retired since 2010, served on the staffs of two bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for nearly 25 years and on the staff of the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for nearly 15 years before that.]