Earlier this week I attended a funeral service. It was not anyone I was close to. We probably only met once or twice during the past three years. I went to be with some of his extended family. During our time together I was struck by two things.
First this was a service unlike any I have ever attended. I knew it was going to be different. I had never attended a service of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, before. What has surprised me is how much time I have spent thinking about this service over the past week.
We gathered together in a small wooden church complete with hard wooden pews and the kind of air conditioning that comes only through open windows. There was no pastor, no leader, simply a gathering of friends come together to celebrate and honor the memory of a life well lived. As we entered those who were obviously guests (new to the Quaker way of worship) were quietly handed a pamphlet which explained what was about to happen. In part it reads,
“We reflect on the value of that life as it relates to the lives of all of us. All present share in this process. We sit quietly; at times an individual may be moved to speak, to offer a prayer or a message that has come out of the silence. All are welcome to do this. The responsibility for the spiritual depth of the meeting rests with each attender. Those who keep silent as well as those who give a vocal message do their part when they yield their minds and hearts to the guidance of the Spirit.”
At the appointed time one this man’s son’s stood up and shared some words about his father. He spoke some words of comfort and then opened the floor to anyone who wanted to share and invited us into the quiet to remember his father and listen for the Spirit’s leading. The room fell silent. It remained quiet for some time. Quiet except for the consistent sound of the clock ticking off the moments we were gathered together. After some quiet people slowly began to speak and share their memories and some words of comfort.
It was a beautiful service that demonstrated what it means for a community to sit in the presence of the Spirit of God and discern words of comfort and peace. Driving away I could not help but wonder what our churches would look like today if we learned from this practice and taught people to embrace stillness and listen for God’s direction.
In the midst of our time of quiet one of the grandchildren spoke up. She shared of an interaction with her grandfather which had changed her and how she looked at him. I dare say it changed how she looks at the world. She began with a confession, “This is not going to make me look good”, followed by nervous laughter on her part. She shared of looking through her grandfathers year book and seeing that he had gotten some award or recognition for having good grades and for his skills as a farmer. She asked something along the lines, “If you had good grades, why are you doing this work?” Farming is hard work. There are few, if any, easy days and your body pays a price for the long hours of demanding labor. There is constant and consistent pressure financially. “If you have options…Granddad…why would you choose this?” His answer was something along the lines of, “I like it, am good at it and this is what I choose to do.” Lesson learned
Driving away from that small country church I was struck by a few things. I did “not have time” to go to that service. There were all kinds of good reasons to explain why I should not be there. My spirit needed to be there. I was reminded of a few very important things and got to watch a community come together in a sacred way. Sometimes in life we are called to do things, not because they make sense to others, or are going to make us the most money, or be the easiest way to get through life…we are called to do them because at the core of who we are it is who we are. To do anything else would feel odd and would deny the reality of who God created us to be.
God is Good All the Time…All the Time God is Good