Most people know the dictionary definition: To consecrate is to make sacred. The root is the Latin sacer meaning “sacred.” The prefix con- can mean either “with” or “thoroughly, completely, intensely.” And so, consecration denotes a total dedication of something or someone to the sacred.
For my novel in stories, Consecration Pond, I chose as epigraph a few lines from Howard Nemerov’s poem “The Pond.” It’s a five-page poem, and in my view, a masterpiece. Early in the poem, Nemerov describes the death of a boy who went skating on the pond the previous winter and drowned. He tells us that residents of the town where the pond is located have decided to name the pond for the boy: Christopher Pond. Later in the poem, Nemerov refers to this death as an “accidental consecration.”
In “Spring Ice,” the ninth story in Consecration Pond, the narrator refers to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which, like Nemerov’s poem, speaks of death as consecration:
"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract." (November 19, 1863)
Reflecting on this passage, it’s worth noting that more than 3,100 Union soldiers died at Gettysburg.
But is death, whether accidental or sacrificial, the only means of consecration? Can we, the living, somehow transform our own experiences—of trauma, shame, loss—into something sacred? If so, how?
I think the answer begins with that three-letter prefix con-, which communicates a thorough and intentional dedication to the work of making sacred. But something else is needed first: Before we can begin the work of dedication, we must acquiesce to the circumstances that compel it.
In Nemerov’s poem, the residents of the town acquiesce to an event they are powerless to change—the death of a child—by giving the pond the child’s name. Nemerov explains unambiguously that this naming reflects “Not consolation, but our acquiescence.”
Similarly, Lincoln forces his listeners to acknowledge the deaths of those 3,100 Union soldiers as prelude to the act of dedication: “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”
In Consecration Pond, a similar two-part act of acquiescence and dedication enables many of the narrators to consecrate experiences in their own lives. For example, in the opening story, “Prayer of the Bell,” Lucy—a stargazer—experiences a violation. She initially tries to hide from the experience—locking her doors and pulling down her window shades. But while listening to her neighbor’s bell, she allows herself to let the experience go—in short, she acquiesces to a past she cannot change. Then, with her neighbor’s help, she consecrates the experience with a ritual burial, marking the burial place with a star.
In contrast, some characters in Consecration Pond cannot achieve this sacred acquiescence. Their attachment to their loss—and its attendant regret, guilt, or grief—keeps them frozen in the past. In the words of Father Mackenzie in the eighth story, “Winter Thrush,” they cannot thaw. And as we see in the story that follows, “Spring Ice,” when we cannot thaw, sometimes we break.
In late August, I said goodbye to my daughter, who’s spending the coming academic year as a teaching assistant in the UK. We embraced, then released each other to our new, separate worlds. As I walked away, I reflected on my gratitude for our love, and rededicated myself to playing my small part in supporting my daughter’s journey. A moment of consecration? Since writing Consecration Pond, I have come to see them all around me.