Today has been a mix of blessings. I spent the better part of the day writing the memorial service homily for the father of one my dearest friends. I have known the family since I was in 8th grade - that's 48 years - and am honored to have been asked to officiate and help out. Now, in a short time, I get to welcome and introduce a stellar home-town boy who is now international pianist playing a concert at our church.
And then tomorrow, after the memorial service, we leave for two weeks away in Montreal and Ottawa. Our daughter and son-in-law will join us for part of the fun at the Jazz Festival and that will be a treat on many levels.
Funny how one day can hold so many competing feelings, yes? Gratitude and grief, celebration and sorrow, longing and rest and everything in-between. As I prepared and prayed over my writing task, I found myself using a prayer-psalm by Ed Hays called "The Psalm of Passing On."
Such an obscene expression: to die ~
the polite never utter aloud
such vulgar, grave, dirty words.
Neighbors do not die, they pass on:
friends and family do not die, they pass away.
"Died" is an ugly period-word
that ends a sentence.
It closes the door with a slam,
seals the tomb.
Yet in this "passing on" avoidance
is found a mystical truth.
For death is the great passage,
a passing beyond sickness
and the valley of disappointment,
a passage through the womb of the tomb
a passage over life's limitations.
Since death is for you, O God of the Passover,
a voyage of returning,
a joyous triumphant homecoming,
help me the next time I am told
that acquaintances have "passed on,"
not cringe, but to smile
and to say, "Ah, yes they have indeed."
I don't think Hays is trying to be cute - just honest. Death is an end, to be sure, but not just an end in our tradition. In this, passing on is more descriptive and active than euphemistic. So, off I go to a concert - and then a memorial service - and then a vacation for rest and renewal. All of it made me think of this tune by brother Lennie...
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