I don't understand and that is enough for me...

At today's midday Eucharist we prayed for the departed and wondered aloud what that really means.  Our small group discerned that we love the language of the church and liturgy when it comes to death.  Not only is it comforting in its poetry, it also takes us far away from the "linear speech is the only true speech" addiction that inhibits contemporary conversation and malnourishes our imaginations.  One ancient prayer puts it like this:

By Thy resurrection from the dead, O Christ, death no longer hath dominion over those who die... So, we beseech Thee, give rest to Thy servants in Thy sanctuary and in Abraham's bosom. Grant it to those, who from Adam until now have adorned Thee with purity... and to all who have passed on their road to Thee, by a thousand ways and in all conditions, make them worthy of Thy heavenly kingdom.

I don't pretend to understand what it means to be given the rest of Abraham's bosom.  Sure I know it is a reference to a gospel story in which a rich man who has not cared for the poor begs for the comfort of Abraham while trapped in the firery despair of Hades - but I don't know what that really means.  Except it sounds timeless and saturated with rest.  We were all taken by the thousand ways part of the prayer.  That kept the mystery real and felt grace-filled, too.  Ralph Heintzman writes that we live in a time when we think that "everything (except linear truths) needs to be somehow translated before it can be called 'true.'"
In the language of poetry, the distinction between perception and value has begun to disappear altogether. A poetic symbol, as Coleridge famously observed, 'always partakes of the reality that it renders intellgible.' Religious language takes this tendency even further. In religious languange - at the other end of the spectrum from 'scientific' language - you can no longer distinguish the symbol from the thing symbolized at all... in religious language 'signs ARE - instead of simply representing - what they signify.'  This is because religious language is primarily the language of religious actions, acts of worship, ritual, prayer, meditation... religious words are not so much signifiers as transmitters - transmitters of the realities and the power toward which religious reverence is addressed... they allow us to participate in something... so that understanding and feeling merge into one.

Before moving to the table of bread and wine I noted that I give thanks that the church calls us - at least once a year and more if we're paying attention - to think about the mystery of death and life everlasting.  Like Paul Simon once sang, "I'm still crazy after all the years" and don't pretend to understand what is ultimately taking place.  But in prayer and community, Eucharist, song and liturgy my understanding and feelings merge into a real participation in God's comfort.  And that is enough for me.  Small wonder that Psalm 130 - de profundis - is often a part of Christian funerals:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

 
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

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