Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Reflection for All Souls

On Mourning Those Whose Faith was Weak
Reflection offered at the annual
All Souls Concert at St. Joseph's Church,
Kingston , NY - November 10, 2013

Many of us have been consoled in our grief by remembering the deep faith of the person no longer with us. We may have observed firsthand how the one we loved and respected was carried through the dying process by faith in a loving God. Or perhaps the sadness of the day of their departure or the day of their burial was eased by our imagining their joy as they entered into the embrace of the God whom they knew and loved.
But my words now are for those who grieve the loss of someone whose faith was not strong; whose faith was underdeveloped; whose faith was long ago jettisoned in the face of great pain, misfortune or disillusionment. Preparing their funerals and burial rites may have seemed a bit off kilter because we never really knew how they were with God.

It was this way with me when my father died last April. True to his utterly in control character and while he was in Hospice care at home, he planned everything. At his request he met with the funeral director and pastor of the Episcopal Church where he would be buried. He wrote his own obituary, wanted no church service, requested military honors and allowed for only a few words at the burial.

While not a member of Gereration X, he could have declared like some of them, “I am not religious but I am spiritual.” I believe my father was a deeply spiritual man. Were he not, how could he have been such a loving and faithful husband for almost 70 years, such a lover and connoisseur of music and art, such a steady reliable friend, or such a faithful citizen of the country of his adoption? He often asked me to pray for him. But he was a pragmatic man wary of all illusion.
Where did I find my consolation if I could not find it in the sure knowledge of his faith? Where can we find some peace when we lose someone whose faith had not matured, who seemed to have no faith, or who chose a spiritual path unlike our own?  I found my peace in a passage of Scripture frequently read at funerals but little meditated upon:

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble…
I read this passage and no longer wondered about the quality of the grand reunion of my father’s soul with his creator.  In that reunion all has been revealed to him. Now he knows all about God, all those things he missed or questioned or puzzled about all his life. Now he knows utterly unconditional love.

Let our consolation be found in the image of God taking such souls to himself and transforming them into brilliant light. Where once their intellect or ignorance, their pride or their lack of self-worth, their self-centeredness or their frenzied busy-ness kept God at a distance or out of their realm altogether; now they have bridged the gap. All distance has been erased by union with God who knew their hearts as only God can know them. With this image before us we can say with comforting certainty, “Now they know.”




Marsha B West said...

Thanks, Hildegard. This really spoke to me. My own father died a few years ago. He had rejected the faith of his young man-hood and died claiming to be an atheist. And yet he was a loving and caring man who cared for my shut-in mother until her death, who took meals-on-wheels to the elderly, etc. I just have to trust that he was, as you say, a "just man," and that the God he rejected was not the true God. Thanks for your wise words.

Marsha B West said...

Hildegard, I just read this post from last month, and I must tell you that it brought me consolation, because my father is one who jettisoned his faith when it didn't seem to measure up to his experience of the world. A priest friend asked me when I was troubled about that whether the God my Father had believed in once was the "real God." And I could answer in all sincerity that I thought he had been mistaken about the nature of God (an all controlling deity who was both capricious and harsh), the priest said to me, "Aren't we supposed to turn away from false Gods?" I took comfort in that - and in the knowledge that he was one of those who did NOT cry out "Lord, Lord," but he DID do the will of the Father in serving the needs of others and living a kindly and loving life. But your words add to that comfort. Thank you.