“God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by a steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.”Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings
“Each day is a little life; every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.”Arthur Schopenhauer
“The living world moves in pulses. Gusts of wind are punctuated by relative stillness. Musical notes resonate within the padding of silence. Rest and motion require one another for balance, beauty and life. Yet somehow we’ve built a culture that demands the impossible: leaving the tap on and emitting our own energy in constant deluge.”Lauren L. Hill, “Minding My Mothers” in Dumbo Feather, 2020, 8-9.
‘Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids — all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through.’
Garrison Keillor, We are Still Married: Stories and Letters, Viking Books, 1989.
We are a fickle lot. Whatever language we give it — whether religious or otherwise — most of us know that we are a bundle of contradictions. At one moment we shine; we aspire to virtue and change and beauty. At another we fall back into self-interest and ‘whatever’.
As a person of Christian faith, it’s this internal back-and-forth that I struggle to name. This little prayer said it for me this morning. There’s something here about naming what is while reaching for the courage and grace to be different.
Most loving God,
we admit to you and to each other
that we are beings in whom shame and glory
are strangely mixed.
We are creatures of wisdom and folly,
trust and anxiety, success and failure,
truth and deceit, love and apathy.
We need you, yet we evade you —
to believe, yet we doubt,
to praise, yet we dishonour,
to love, yet we resent.
God of the new creation and our God,
we long to be made whole
in thought, word, and deed.
We seek of you today the gifts of Jesus:
and the courage to be
the sisters and brothers of Christ.
Bruce Prewer, Australian Prayers, Lutheran Publishing House, 1983, 84.
I conducted a funeral last week. It was for a man I cherished as a friend and wise elder. I may have been his pastor this last decade, but he enlarged my spirit far more than I ever nurtured his. Under the current restrictions, the gathering was small: just ten members of his family and me. Truth be told, those who mourned his death could have filled an auditorium. Instead, we were just a few.
My friend was a man of the church. He had given 60+ years of devoted service to Collins Street. But he was more than the church. He was a man of family, of work in local and state government and of civic duty. He provided leadership to community and sporting organisations throughout his life. While he possessed a faith — a very genuine faith — he was not a pious man. In the words of his wife, there was no “pie in the sky” for which he hungered. For him the way of Christ was a way to live, and this he did with genuine delight and an integrity hard to match.
One of the privileges of leading funerals is the routine recognition it provides that death is part of life’s story. I cannot look away. Life and death go hand in hand. Benedict of Nursia (AD 480-547), the founder of a spiritual community that survives to the present day, instructed his monks to “keep death daily before your eyes.” This was not a morbid exhortation, rather an encouragement to cherish life from beginning to end as the extraordinary and eternal gift that it is.
The contemporary Benedictine David Steindl-Rast underlines this truth:
“The finality of death is meant to challenge us to decision, the decision to be fully present here now, and so begin eternal life. For eternity rightly understood is not the perpetuation of time, on and on, but rather the overcoming of time by the now that does not pass away.”
Today my friend is gone from us and we grieve. But the ‘now’ of his life lives on in a world that is richer for his presence. For me the language of eternity is a language of mystery: what lies beyond is beyond my knowing. What I do know, however, is that eternity begins each and every day and its beauty is ours to grasp in the smallest details of our lives. This my friend did with a style all his own and I’ll never forget him for it.
“If your notion of heaven is based on exclusion of anybody else, then it is by definition not heaven. The more you exclude, the more hellish and lonely your existence always is.”Richard Rohr, Falling Upward. London: SPCK, 2012.
“Looking back, I see why I needed the tedium and the inspiration, the anger and the love, the anguish and the joy. I see how it all belongs, even those days of despair when the darkness overwhelmed me. Calamities I once lamented now appear as strong threads of a larger weave, without which the fabric of my life would be less resilient.”Parker J Palmer, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old. Oakland CA: Berret-Koehler, 2018.
I read these words just yesterday from American writer Parker J. Palmer. Today they feel true.
Keep on weaving, Palmer says. We will.
On this day long years ago, our promising
young president was killed. He was far too young
to die and I far too young to watch my world unravel
as it did. I grieved my loss, our loss, then started
to reweave — a work, a life, a world — not knowing
then what I know now: the world unravels always,
and it must be rewoven time and time again.
You must keep collecting threads — threads of meaning,
threads of hope, threads of purpose, energy and will —
along with all the knowledge, skill that every weaver needs.
You must keep on weaving — stopping sometimes only
to repair your broken loom — weave a cloak of warmth
and light against the dark and cold, a cloak in which
to wrap whoever comes to you in need — the world
with all its suffering, those near at hand, yourself.
And, if you are lucky, you will find along the way
the thread with which you can reweave your own
tattered life, the thread that more than any other
laces us with warmth and light, making both the
weaver and the weaving true — the red thread
they call Love, the thread you hold, then
hand along, saying to another, “You.”
Parker J. Palmer
“Stories enact a form of mutual hospitality. What is story if not an enticement to stay? You’re invited in, but right away you must reciprocate and host the story back, through concentration: whether you read or hear a narrative — from a book or a person — you need to listen to really understand. Granting complete attention is like giving a silent ovation. Story and listener open, unfold into and harbour each other.”
Priya Basil, Be My Guest, Canongate, 2019, 12.