I shared with my daughter Lucy that I was off this afternoon to preside at a Committal service. A member of the church had organized the funeral for his beloved wife last winter but the ground had been too hard to dig a grave. So today is the day we offer closure to the family, a time to reflect on our fragile bodies and how the gift of life is such that we come from the earth and go back to the earth, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The widower will be bringing sand from the beach that gave his wife such joy and life. He will sprinkle this sand on the grave as I say the sacred words.
When Lucy heard all of this she was moved to offer to come with me. I knew she would be well received, when the funeral took place Lucy had operated the sound system. The widower has written Lucy a beautiful note of thanks. Lucy asked if there was anything she could do. I told her it would be a short ceremony, we would be standing around the grave, a few short scriptures, the sacred words of burial, prayers and a benediction. Only when there is no funeral does the Committal become a more involved gathering. Given the length of time between the funeral and the Committal I do plan to say a few words about the loved one.
And then it hit me, Lucy plays the clarinet and the widower had requested for the funeral the well-known hymn “In the Bulb There is a Flower.” I have shared the words to this hymn in a recent blog on this very subject. Given the nature of this ritual, earth, a grave and the Christian promise of new life, that hymn seemed especially appropriate. I asked Lucy if she could bring her clarinet, play the hymn, while the rest of us listened to the melody. I do not expect anyone to sing the words, just listen to the music and take in the deeper meaning. Music can do that, deepen an experience touch us in a place that words alone cannot.
Two things struck me in this moment. One, my daughter is a caring and thoughtful person. And two that the addition of a simple act can alter for the better just about any gathering. It’s amazing to me that we don’t do this more often, add something simple that organically comes from the group to add that special accent that makes the whole event more meaningful.
I remember a birthday celebration in Ottawa at a church I once served. A new organist had come to the church, she was from Eastern Europe and high trained. This musician was feeling her way into the church, the language barrier was preventing some deeper relationships from forming. A member of the church was celebrating a birthday and was our guest at the manse that night. In conversation I discovered this woman was a classical music fan and she even told me her favorite composers and pieces of music. As we finished the meal we walked over to the church where the new organist was waiting to give us an intimate concert for two families. Four parents, two small children, we were all treated to an amazing collection of music. It was this woman’s 40th birthday and the event suddenly took on a more reflective tone.
I am not sure who was more inspired by the evening, the woman celebrating her birthday or the new organist making a connection in a new community with new friends. These kind of moments are waiting to happen. All of the ingredients are present in every day for every occasion. All it takes is a little initiative and imagination.