Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Snapshots of a Life & Death

The last two days have been weighty ones. On Sunday morning, a dear friend of ours was ordained to the priesthood, after a journey of many years in that direction. It was a wonderful celebration for our congregation. (Like Papa Rooster, he's keeping his day job--but now Papa R. won't be the only other ordained priest besides our senior pastor, which will really help with vacation schedules, weddings and other responsibilities.)

Sunday afternoon, we attended the wake (or visitation, depending on where you hail from) for the fiancee of our close friends' son. (Though they weren't officially engaged yet, both families and her obituary called him her fiance.) Hundreds of people lined up to greet her parents--we stood in line for two hours. (For us it doubled as a great visit with old friends we rarely see--our former senior pastor and his wife.)

We shared with her parents our last memory of Laurel. Both Papa Rooster and I had seen her different times over the years at our friends' home and she had even come on a camping trip once with our families, but the last time we saw her was less than two weeks before her death, at the Easter Vigil--holding hands with her fiance and another friend, dancing in the aisle, in praise and celebration of our Lord's resurrection--her assurance of eternal life.

Monday morning was the funeral, and they had to set up chairs in the lobby to seat everyone. Many relatives and friends shared memories and words of comfort, faith and hope. Our friends selected and ministered the music so beautifully. I was familiar with "I Can Only Imagine," but "I Will Praise You in the Storm" was new to me and so fitting, echoed by the rainy weather we had all weekend:

I was sure by now
That You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen"
and it's still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God
Who gives and takes away

I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

A cousin of Laurel's shared this passage from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (I was thrilled to find it in the online searchable version!):

[Contemplating his wife's labor to give birth to his newborn daughter] All he knew and felt was that what was happening was what had happened nearly a year before in the hotel of the country town at the deathbed of his brother Nikolay. But that had been grief-- this was joy. Yet that grief and this joy were alike outside all the ordinary conditions of life; they were loopholes, as it were, in that ordinary life through which there came glimpses of something sublime. And in the contemplation of this sublime something the soul was exalted to inconceivable heights of which it had before had no conception, while reason lagged behind, unable to keep up with it.[italics mine]

I love this image--of birth and death like holes in the fabric of life. Death, especially, is a tearing away and leaves such an empty place in the tapestry of relationships. But in this image, that open place is not empty: it is filled with light, with glimpses of the sublime; not a void, but a window to things which reason cannot fully apprehend. I can imagine, too, a fabric being woven or knitted, in which a pattern of holes will later be part of the beauty of the completed piece.

This is the Scripture our friend's son (who is doing so well, by God's grace) read at the funeral:

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. (I Thess 4:13-18)


HolyMama! said...

what a great last memory of her - praising her Lord!

Ann V. said...

What a beautiful song....so apt.
"I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am"


And yes...birth and death as holes in the fabric of life, glimpses to the sublime...beautiful imagery.

Thank you,
Ann V.