From the Bounday: ‘He’s dead and gone, Lady’ – Part 2
Sun, 05/01/2016 - 12:48am
Fr. Clifford Hall
Last week I reflected a little on funerals and death. In particular, I began to explore what I’ll call ‘funeral homiletics’ and especially ‘Christian life’ messages, directed not at those most close to the deceased in their grief or the dead, but to the rest of us. At root, these messages carry a health warning – ‘Look out, it’s you next. You’d better behave yourself.’ I said that this fudged the point that the funeral, though a sign of community, is actually the formal farewell, the ‘send- off’, of those who deeply mourn. It follows that ‘grief’ is at least as significant for sermonizing. I began to discuss the after-life as another area but entered the caveat that, for me, this might be difficult because I’d made it a rule never to preach on something which I hadn’t found to be true in my own experience.
I can imagine some being horrified. ‘What: a priest who won’t preach on Heaven and Hell?’ Well, yes, it does sound a bit odd. What of all the ‘comfortable words’? Well, some of them are very beautiful words and where there is beauty and creativity, there also is God.
Of course, there is a difference between belief and knowledge, and honest doubt may be more sacred than wilful blindness. Mere shades of belief cause more quarrels than honest doubt. Doubt brings people together. The doubter fights only with himself and, candidly, I’d rather have it than a belief system geared to rewards and penalties. A god who goes around punishing people for being as he made them, as we’re told, frankly isn’t worth believing in.
For me, it’s love which is at the heart of things, not judgment. You remember Hymn 106 in Ancient and Modern?
“My God, I love Thee; not because I hope for Heav’n thereby; or yet because who love Thee not may eternally die……not with the hope of gaining ought, nor seeking a reward, but as Thyself has loved me, O ever loving Lord.”
That summarizes it for me and, frankly, the rest can take care of itself – even if it means crossing the Red Sea without a paddle.
I’ve lived a fairly long life. Experience tells me that there are other worlds unknown to scientists whose forces impact upon us. I’m sure many of you have had ‘whisperings from eternity’, so many strange happenings, voices, visions, visitations, coincidences which, like miracles associated with saints, defy rational explanation. We all know about exorcisms and the dynamic of pure evil. It’s all recounted by Scott Peck and Malachi Martin. And then there are so-called near death experiences. In the latest work on that subject, Imagine Heaven (2015), the author, John Burke, explores over 100 NDE cases in relation to what Scripture says about Heaven, cases which confirm it, Burke says, and actually tell us something about it. So OK – experience forbids me from preaching about the after-life, but I have no difficulty preaching about other worlds. The rest would be up to you.
In Mikhail Naimy’s book, The Book of Mirdad, we learn something of the IS-NESS of God to which we can all relate. It’s rooted in the idea of our lives as Celebration. Our thoughts, Mirdad says, are etched in fire upon the sky. Our words are heard by the single ear of the world. When we wish, we become the wish. In short, God lives in you and me. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? So there, a fourth funeral-type, the deceased as a cause for celebration, as the unique seed which God cast upon the ground, who touched the presence of BEING, who lived, loved, danced and sang and was here with the rest of us in the beautiful game we call LIFE. How far we are from the shadow side of death – the grim reaper and the wages of sin all rooted in fear and terror. You and I, and the dead, have been a part of our world within worlds and all of it so much bigger than we can ever imagine; and like the great sound of eternity we resonate on and on as it has been for 200,000 years protected by a planet formed billions of years ago.
So yes, death has a blessed side. It’s a step into eternity with everything that’s lived and will live. The God of my life is also the God of my death. Are we, like St Francis, so united with our Lord that we are quite prepared to live or die? Do we love so much that we welcome ‘Bodily Sister Death’? Are we prepared to let go our I-NESS to embrace God’s IS-NESS?
Spare me from pathetic little pleas that God will save us, that we must lead a good life or else, or that some are destined for paradise whereas it’s hell for the rest of us. Why do we make God so small? He’s created a universe and we’re told to worry ourselves sick about some error, some nonsense, some nastiness we did yesterday. Do we recognize the nastiness for what it is? Good – then put it right and get on with it, and stop feeling so self-important. Salvation comes not from mumbling words of penance from a book but through the pure heart – the heart full of joy and wonder which marvels at the beauty of all created things. Everything follows from that.
Yes, it’s natural enough to “rage against the dying of the light” at close of day. But when we do, let it be a celebration. Let’s go over the top with guns blazing dodging all the sniper fire. Yes, let’s burn in God before we burn out in God – and give the poor officiating priest something to talk about.
Go safely then, until the next time.
Clairvoyance from the boundary: “Chance is the pseudonym which God uses when He doesn’t choose to sign His name” (Anatole France).