“And it makes me Wonder….” Stairway to Heaven

I officiated at my first civil funeral of an elderly lady which caused me to do a lot of thinking. These reflections were utterly reframed after hearing a wonderful teaching I stumbled upon by Richard Rohr on YouTube, which was based on Franciscan mysticism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NtUaos9Nus.  In keeping with all grace-filled coincidences, Fiona and Matthew’s own teaching in Ignite happened a few days later which only compounded the learning further.

In preparation for the funeral of this elderly lady, I met with her son for the consultation regarding the service. He was a fine man who clearly had loved his mother deeply. From his storytelling around how she had lived her life, he clearly demonstrated inherent attributes of faithfulness, commitment, responsibility, sensitivity and love which I’m sure “he didn’t lick off the stones” as we say on the Northside!!

Being so articulate and forthcoming regarding his mother’s life made my job so easy as I listened out for adjectives that would capture her essence. Adjectives which stood out included openness, compassion, endurance, dynamism and presence. Such words showing the vigour with which this lady had lived her life in spite of her many years challenged by non-stop illness. It made me think of that lovely line in John 10:10 “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance” and this lady certainly did, in spite of her suffering.

As agreed, there were to be no prayers, no mention of God at the funeral service – this lady did not believe in an afterlife.

In between the day of the consultation and the funeral, I naturally prayed for the deceased and her family and trusted that I would be guided to select poetry which would not only honour her life but which would also reflect the hidden nature of God revealed in how this lady chose to transcend her suffering and how she chose to live life fully.

On the day of the funeral I was struck by the incredible love displayed by the family while feeling conflicted that there was to be no mention of God.  However, seeing the family’s love all I could think of was “Since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God” (1 John 4:7).

Doing this civil funeral naturally made me think about the afterlife and what happens to those who die with no faith or belief in God? 

I at once corrected myself for being judgemental remembering very quickly the words in Matthew’s Gospel “First remove the beam out of your own eye…” (Matt: 7-5).

A few weeks later, I happened to hear the aforementioned teaching by Richard Rohr, which beautifully reminded me of the greatness, mystery and vastness of God.

In Ephesians 4:6 Paul states: “There is one God and Creator of all, who is over all, who works through all, and is within all.”.  Rohr embeds this quote into the work of St. Bonaventure, a companion of St. Francis of Assisi. Bonaventure wrote:

The magnitude of things . . . clearly manifests . . . the wisdom and goodness of

the triune God, who by power, presence and essence exists uncircumscribed

in all things. God is within all things but not enclosed; outside all things,

but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased.”[1]

He goes on to say that “God is one whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. Therefore, the origin, magnitude, multitude, beauty, fullness, activity and order of all created things are the very ‘footprints’ and fingerprints’ of God[2]

A few days later Fiona and Matthew gave their wonderful presentation in Ignite framed by Phil 4:8 Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

I affectionately think of this dear elderly lady who lived her life fully and, in her death, gave me adjectives which revealed God’s story in her life while challenging my judgemental ponderings… learning yet again “Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11) In this context, it seems only fitting to close with the following:

Therefore, open your eyes, alert the ears of your spirit, open your lips and

apply your heart so that in all creatures you may see, hear, praise, love and

worship, glorify and honour your God,”[3].

[1] Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey to God, I, 14, trans. Ewert Cousins (Paulist Press: 1978), 65.

[2] Ibid., 5, 8, 100-101.

[3]  Ibid., 1, 15, 67-68.

Theme photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

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