Thursday March 11, 2021
Saturday March 13 marks one year since my wife’s death. Originally, we planned to have her memorial service a week after she died.
Joan had worked with our minister at the time to plan a service that reflected her preferences.
In the 15 years she spent working at the United Church of Canada’s national offices in Toronto, the most inspiring were as administrative assistant in the worship portfolio. She developed a deep appreciation for the church’s sacraments. Even though it is not normally included in memorial services, she wanted to have communion at her service.
She couldn’t have anticipated that the day after her death, the province would go into Covid-19 lockdown. First, restricted numbers in any social gathering. Then, no gatherings at all.
Somehow, I thought that the new rules would not apply to anything as earth-shaking as Joan’s death. We would have a service at our church, regardless.
Grief tends to over-react that way. After my mother died, I remember feeling astonished that buses were still running.
Adapting to new circumstances
In those first weeks of social isolation, we didn’t know how to have a service with no one present.
One year later, we’ve learned a lot about holding virtual services. So my daughter and I felt it was time to have a service for her. Even though we still can’t gather all her friends together. And we still can’t join in singing the hymns she chose.
We wondered how much we dared deviate from her plans.
Is Joan hovering overhead, watching us to ensure we follow her last wishes?
Before my father’s death, we asked him what he wanted for his memorial service. “Do whatever you want,” he said wearily. “I won’t be there.”
I find reason and emotion are at odds.
Tradition says that there is a soul, distinct from the physical body. The body ends, but the soul carries on.
Reason balks at that distinction. We are embodied souls. All that makes us unique individuals depends on the combination of body and spirit. Our minds need sensory input from our bodies; without bodies, our minds cease to function, even to exist.
Once we are gone, reason says, we are gone. Period.
At the same time, I’m sure I’ve heard Joan’s voice inside my head when I’m working late at my computer: “Are you almost finished?”
And when I hear of another old friend’s death, my first thought is still, “Joan will want to know.”
I woke one night, and felt someone get out of the other side of the bed, shuffle to the bathroom, come back, and climb into bed. I almost called out. I felt – there is no other word for it – a wild exhilaration.
I was conscious enough to know I was not dreaming.
I was also conscious enough to know that if I opened my eyes, there would be nothing to see.
So is she still here? Or isn’t she?
In the end, it’s irrelevant.
A lot has changed over the last year. If she’s not here anymore, what we do can’t affect her, right or wrong. And if she is, she’ll understand why we had to make some changes.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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After last week’s column, about some guidelines that can lead to more productive discussions, Gloria Jorgenson wrote, “Lucky you that your mind has held up longer than your body! We are all more than our physical selves!
“As to discussion, I have always maintained that we are the product of our experiences and our intellect so your opinion is as valid as mine. The one thing I have no understanding of is anyone's acceptance of DJT [Donald Trump]. It is the only topic I cannot discuss with anyone who finds his behaviour acceptable. They have a right to their opinion, I just don't need to hear it.”
Steve Roney thought I was “half right about appeals to authority. A simple appeal to authority is a recognized logical fallacy. It is not enough to say ‘Einstein said X,’ or ‘Biden said Y’; you need to offer reasons and evidence. You may have gotten them from such a figure; but the reasons or evidence must stand on their own, not be accepted simply because Einstein said it.
“But the alternative is not individual experience. That is far worse.”
Steve then developed, at some length, his theme that relying on individual experience led to only “anecdote and superstition.” He insisted on an agreed-upon authority: “For a discussion among Christians, the standard is the text of the Bible. Only if everyone accepts this authority, along with certain rules of textual criticism, and perhaps a common creed, can any meaningful discussion occur. Without this, the discussion easily veers off in any direction; there are no grounds for agreement on anything.”
Ginny Adams is a member of some 12-step groups: “We emphasize sharing our experience, strength, and hope, not just ranting about the day's problems. And sharing my experience somehow makes a newcomer feel at home, for basically all we have to share is ourselves.”
Jim Hoffman had his own rules to facilitate discussion: “For several years, I taught a class for adults in the workplace utilizing Stephen Covey's ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. I always felt his Habit #5, ‘Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood’ was a very effective method in improving communication between people who had opposing viewpoints. When we choose to understand another person, we must listen carefully and seriously consider their experiences. This ties in well with your guidelines, and I agree with your #4 which encourages us to ask questions. Meaningful, civil discussion is sorely needed in our world today.”
Rachel Prichard added some other guidelines: “I am in Year 4 of Education for Ministry, and from the beginning, for the sake of group health and group life, our ‘rules’ are:
No frogging - no leaping off the subject
No flogging - don't beat people up!
No blogging - respect confidentiality
No hogging - one person dominating the conversation
No bogging - with long personal anecdotes
“This works very well with few exceptions and gives us all a mutual responsibility for the success of the group and course.”
Ken Nicholl’s letter, last week, about deliberately wearing mis-matched socks, generated almost as much mail as my column!
Norma Wible wrote, “I loved Ken Nicholls’ explanation for why he wore different ‘matched’ socks. What a fantastic yet simple way to witness to our common humanity, and as a conversation-starter, a way to possibly make people stop and think. Thank you! I shall be trying your tactic on this side of the pond!”
Laura Hutchison: “The note from Ken Nicholls about the socks reminds me of a time when my daughter, Audrey, was asked the question, ‘Why do you always wear socks that don't match?’ She responded, ‘What's the matter, are you some kind of sock-racist?’”
Also Isabel Gibson: “Ken Nicholls' comment about socks reminded me of Stephen Wright's stand-up routine, something like this: ‘Yesterday I was wearing one green sock and one blue sock. Someone said, “Your socks don't match.” I said, ‘Yes they do, I go by thickness.'"
And before you ask, let me say that, yes, I too have started wearing socks that are not necessarily the same colour. I reach into my sock drawer, grab two, and wear whatever I get!
I’ve done two paraphrases of Psalm 107; both acknowledge that our world is dealing with more refugees than ever before.
2,3 All around the world, millions of people will attest --
1 God is good. God will not let you down.
17 Sometimes that is hard to believe.
Hatred robs black Americans of hope.
The bias of international mass media makes Palestinians feel despised and rejected;
they hide their faces from our cameras.
Weapons of war maim women and children in Yemen.
Poverty pursues refugees from Somalia,
and starvation those from Myanmar.
18 Fear and despair crushes them.
19 But God gives them the strength to continue.
20 God heals the raw wounds in their souls;
God holds them gently in the terrors of their night.
21 They do not doubt God's saving grace.
22 Listen to them! Hear their story.
Hear, and believe.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)