Earth or soil can be such a powerful metaphor for life. Some urban folk like me might think of earth as dirt, grimy, messy, distracting, and filthy. We sweep it from our midst, we take off our shoes and boots so we don’t track it in our homes, we don’t allow any “brown stuff” to accumulate near our front door lest it find its way into the living room, or heaven forbid, the kitchen!
And yet earth is the platform that gives life, as we say at the Committal service, at the graveyard, “we came from the earth, and to the earth we shall return…” There is a cycle to life and that cycle begins and ends with soil. Whether we are cremated or sealed in a casket the ultimate destination for our bodies is the soil. We are all one day to rest in the earth.
Lately I have been asking grieving families to bring with them soil from a location that was sacred to their loved one. The choice is always considered, thoughtfully chosen, it could be sand from a beach where the family held their get-togethers, it could be from the cottage where life moved to a slower pace, it could be from the birthplace where the loved one always called home. And the family carry this sacred earth with care and when I say the words, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” they sprinkle the soil into the ground where their loved one’s remains await one final goodbye.
What earth would you bring? The funeral homes normally bring their own vile of earth. I asked one funeral director what type of earth they bring and this director explained it was sand from Mexico. With all due respect to the funeral homes I don’t think there is an organic connection to Mexican sand, but then perhaps some of the deceased have spent meaningful times on the beaches of Mexico. The funeral directors seem very comfortable with this change and they too are interested in what the families choose.
For me I will be buried at the St. Andrew’s Anglican cemetery in Timberlea. I often joke that it is the only waterfront property I will ever be able to afford. There, looking out at the river, Kim and I will find our final resting place. For sacred earth I would likely choose some soil from the garden my parents created on Mic Mac Court. That is if the current owners of that property said it was OK. Although I have never visited the property since my Dad sold the house in 2007 it was my home for over 20 years. I was never a fan of the house itself but the eclectic garden that my parents created from the ditches of Nova Scotia was a meaningful lesson to me, that we can create places and sources of joy from that which is all around us. Beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder.
Death is final and it is piercing in its grief. But nature provides clues to how we can cope with this in a healthy way. Reminding ourselves of the cycle of life is neither denial, nor is it morbid. It is also not maudlin or sentimental. Nature reminds us every autumn and winter of death. Yet there is something in that timely story that brings us to hope, for we know spring and summer will come. The earth holds the promise of life and renewal of life. It is a gift from the Creator. Amen.