Recently, I had the honour of participating in one of life’s milestones – the memorial service of my grandmother. She was 96 years old when she died and was committed to the church, to Christian education, to her family, and she made time for me as a young boy and into adulthood.
As with most funerals, there were opportunities to reflect a little bit on our own lives in the context of the one who has passed away. We did this as a family, and when families do this, there are great memories, beautiful celebrations to recall, and wonderful reflections of a life well lived. But there are also reflections of messiness. There are moments when the shadow side or brokenness creeps into the family dynamics and sometimes it’s hard to reflect and accept the pain.
But this is all part of the messiness of life.
During funeral/memorial services, we sing Hallelujah to our Lord or we sing “it is well, it is well, with my soul.” Then we wrestle with the juxtaposition of sadness and celebration, pain and peace, sorrow and joy.
I remember the first funeral I ever attended.
Most funerals are gripping, but this one hit pretty close to home as our former babysitter, Gabby, was involved in a car accident and passed away at the age of 17 (at least that’s how I remember it).
My siblings, and I (at the age of 9 years old) sat through the service. I think my mom was a bit dismayed as I became quite emotional and I had a hard time keeping it all inside.
I will never forget both the effect of this experience, as well as my mother’s multiple glances down the pew in my desperate attempt to find more tissues.
For me, it was one of the first times I had experienced a deep sense of loss…the messiness of life. I couldn’t understand why people could sing in times of such sorrow.
I am often struck by the mystery and awe of milestone events like funerals and graduations. I have learned to control my emotions (at least a little bit better), but there is something about earthly longing combined with heavenly celebration that places our minds, our hearts and our souls in dissonance.
We want to be sad at funerals, but we should be celebratory; we want to be angry, but recognize this isn’t a solution.
We want to be full of joy at graduations, but we find ourselves in a state of melancholy and disparity; yet God is bigger than our largest emotions and that His plan is ultimately perfect which makes us wonder and question all over again. Milestone events can be profound experiences if we allow them…but they can be messy.
A Stolen Book
In the airplane travelling to my grandmother’s funeral, I read the book entitled “Hallelujah Anyway” by Anne Lamott. (I stole it from my wife as I walked out the door for the airport). It was just a book to read on the plane but I had no idea how it would impact me.
She often writes about the messy dance of life and the challenges that we find ourselves in…
Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess. Especially the great big mess of ourselves – our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice. It includes everything out there that just makes us sick and makes us want to turn away, the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer…
…But it’s so hard for almost everyone here, the whole world over, let alone my own beloved. You would not believe what the people I love the most have lost this year. God thought we would like puberty, warfare, and snakes? I could go on and on – global warming, Parkinson’s, spiders? Yes, because in the words of Candi Stanton’s great gospel song, “hallelujah anyway.” Hallelujah that in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, and mercy. Hallelujah Anyway (Lamott, 10-11)
The month of June is often a month full of celebratory milestones or markers in the lives of loved ones and people around us. We celebrate, rejoice, reflect, and pray for what is next. While celebrating accomplishments is a natural part of life’s journey, it can also be difficult to let go of what we know and say goodbye to loved ones moving on to their next stage.
And so during this last month of school, with graduations, farewells, retirements and parties, I plan to reflect in both the celebrations and the sometimes sober realities of my life…and through it all, keep singing Hallelujah Anyway!