I’m writing this late in the day, after doing the funeral for long time parishioner Barbara Werling, and I’ve just been called to the bedside of someone else who has asked to have their funeral here. One of the extraordinary honors of being a priest is the privilege of being present with people who are going through some of the most poignant moments of life. Sitting vigil with a person whose physical life as we have known it is coming to a close is powerful.
One of the things I do to prepare for a funeral is to sit with the family and loved ones and invite them to share with me their stories. Sometimes it can be challenging to get people started, at other times the flow is fast and fluid. In every instance, however, I come to know this precious person through the stories told. As I listen from the heart, I am seeking a glimpse “the warp and the woof” of this child of God–the thread that runs through the person’s life, giving them the foundation of who they uniquely are. Each time is a gift.
Sometimes, as was most definitely true with Barbara, the thread that runs through their life reveals a profound and living connection to God–our name for the life force and Source of all being. Divine love is always flowing out permeating every part of creation, drawing all of us to the divine dance of joy. Sometimes, however, a person reaches the end of this life without discovering that life-giving connection and, tragically, sometimes religion has sometimes been a stumbling block in that very process. I’m aware when I offer a homily at a funeral that there may well be people present for whom religion has been more barrier than blessing.
Now Love never stops finding a way through to us no matter what the barriers might have been–never forcing, rather with a persistence infused with holy tenderness. And, as last Sunday’s gospel reminded us, an over the top joy whenever one responds to the call of love. In the end, love wins and finds all of us, even those who have not awakened to Love’s touch in this life. But in the meantime, it makes the world of difference in the quality of our lives when we don’t wait that long!
But I grieve that religion, and Christianity in particular, has been a stumbling block, focused on right belief rather than kindling the resonance to love that leads to life. I came across an article recently in the New York Times about the way religions often stray quite far from the heart of their founder. In it former pastor and insightful author Brian McLaren is quoted raising this question:
What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?
What indeed? It does for many but why not all? How can we participate in this holy flow in our own lives, in our community and out into the world? How do we live our lives grounded in love such that the “warp and woof” of our lives, when someone relates who we were in this lifetime, is clear and strong?
Hope to see you Sunday!