November 2011


“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” - we remember our mortality.  But the whole of the text from a funeral’s committal service reads:


“In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life,

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

we commend to almighty God our (brother/sister) _____,

and we commit (his/her) body to the ground,

earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”


            We have been painfully reminded yet again of our mortality by the sad loss of two more dear members of our church family: Jane Steinmann and Ed Palmenberg.  This comes hard on the heels of our grief for the loss of Jerry Bembe and Gerry Jackson.  Beyond church family losses, each of us may have experienced the loss of other family members or dear friends.  I have recently participated in services to say goodbye to three dear friends, and am making frequent visits to Calvary Hospice where another is preparing for her departure.  “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” – mortality; “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection” – eternity.

            Part of what I love most about being a minister is the privilege of admission into the fullness of people’s lives.  There’s an old adage about the job of the minister as “hatching, matching, and dispatching!”  I love my involvement with births, Baptisms, and weddings.  Involvement with people’s experience of Illness, loss, and death is painful.  But it is also privileged.  I feel I am standing on holy ground when people invite me into the circle of their pain.  It is sacred space, and together we grope to find and grasp God’s hand.

            As you can see, mortality is on my mind.  As I have found myself making trips this month to various hospitals, funeral homes, chapels, and cemeteries, I have felt more like a hospice chaplain than a parish minister of late.  Your former pastor, Rev. Jack Branford, has trained as a hospice chaplain and now serves both church and hospice.  I should probably call and talk with him.

            To top it all off, we are now in the days of autumn or fall.  The leaves are turning colors as they dry up and fall to the ground.  Soon the trees will be barren of their foliage.  Winter is coming.  I leave November 6th for New Zealand for a month.  Nora and I are traveling to see our son Ben who lives there now.  It will be wonderful to see him again, and it is wonderful that it will be spring there!  This journey is becoming an affirmation of life!  In the midst of the growing darkness here, we will travel toward a growing light, in order to rejoice in the company of one who is beloved to us.

            Our faith points out a lesson in this.  The darkness points us toward the light.  Loss, separation, and death point out how precious the gift of life is, and what treasures we have in each other.

            Holy Week with its journey through Good Friday to Easter teaches us this at the heart of our faith.  But the lesson is universal, because mortality is universal.  Thus people of all faith traditions, or no faith tradition, participate in celebrations akin to our national holiday of Thanksgiving.  Like the Pilgrims of Plymouth, we too recognize that life can be harsh and that death is inescapable.  Therefore - let me repeat that – Therefore:  we need each other, we need to appreciate and affirm the gift we can be to each other, we need to come together in thanksgiving to share what we have with each other, and to treasure the gift of life and love.

            May that be our resolution these fall days of November in New York:  to focus on the gift of life, not on our losses; to focus on gratitude for what we have, not on what we lack; to treasure the present moment and to hold hands crossing the boulevard.


WTC 10 years later

I too very much have the twin towers tragedy on my mind.  I feel very much as you do.  I managed to visit the memorial on the 17 th of November.  With a beehive of activity buzzing around, being surrounded by construction workers and maximum security, I took comfort in the solidarity of being with so many people present where once the towers stood.  Some people were crying or tracing engraved names but some were sitting on the names posing for photos with smiles.  I guess they just want to say, I WAS THERE.  The running waters of the memorial was refreshing but its rush to the seeming bottomless pit of the monuments just made me think of the death plunge so many made that day.  Therein was the comfort.  Cold comfort to feel safe when someone has survived in that we know it is blessed but temporary.  Endlessly satisfying to know that the dead are safe in His loving arms and so are the living if only we will know it or remember to know it.

I know I will go back in the new year.