And so, as her dearest friends were trying to piece together a coherent gathering structure from her vague instructions, I offered my assistance, and found to my surprise that she had mentioned my name in those instructions, even though religion played no part at all in our relationship with one another.
My only other experience of a service like this – one in which there is intentionally no cohesive religious tradition holding things together – was Paul Wellstone’s public memorial six years ago. I remember thinking at the time, “Did they not consult anyone who knows how to do these things, when everyone is in complete shock and grief?” Yes, there were clergy there to do an invocation, but they felt patched in, a nod to diversity rather than the ones who might call us together in our grief and send us forth with some blessing. Although I was not personally offended by the political turn some speakers took, I was also not surprised that some of the public felt manipulated, betrayed. We are all so tender at such times.
So I went into this task with fear and trembling. I mean to take no credit whatsoever when I say I think today’s service went very well. It was neither as satisfying as a more traditional service would have been for me, nor as comfortable, perhaps, as something even more secular would have been to others. My role was minimal but it felt right. A few people thanked me afterwards for subtly introducing God into the proceedings (thank you, Jane Kenyon). (I’m sure others were perhaps annoyed or puzzled). As always, we compromise for community.
I’m reminded of Thomas Lynch’s moving essay in the 2008 Best American Spiritual Writing:
Whether we are remnant or icon or relic is not up to you or me. It is up to the living who bear us in our memory, and, in fact, bear our mortality, because we are humans, tied to this humus, this layer of earth from which our monuments and our homes and our histories rise up.