Friday, July 20, 2007

Faithless funeral

Another first today. My first secular funeral. I couldn’t help noting that some of those present were people I’ve seen at other funerals, where they complained at being subjected to religious rites when so many of the people there were not religious. I suppose they were quite content today, in so far as one is content at such reminders of mortality. I merely feel bleak. Today’s ceremony was like a longer version of a retirement do – the kind held in the school library during an extended interval. And yes, it was good to hear of the various personae of the person who had died – the anarchic student, the gifted and enthusiastic teacher, the terror of latter-day miscreants, the supportive friend.

But then? Well, then the curtain was drawn, with agonising slowness, in a silence in which no-one stood and no-one prayed and there was no music. Presumably that was a metaphor for what the non-religious felt was happening. The End. And then there was cheery, boppy music and we all filed out. We had been laughing at reminiscences, but now we were silent.

So did I start moaning? Well, maybe just a little. There’s no point, really. Did I say a prayer? Not really. It was difficult – I felt like Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius : “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.” Do I have a conclusion? Maybe. It’s this. I think humans need God more than 21st century people care to admit. They need hope, and light and comfort – and yet these days they choose to face the dark alone. It’s like rejecting the possibility of a hand to help you over the river, or the candle lit in a dark place. But does that mean that the hand, the candle are illusions? That they’re only there if you look for them? This begins to smack of the tree in the desert that no-one has seen (was it Berkeley?)

I can’t work through to the end of this line of thought, because I’m not sure that thought works all the way. But I know that for me the joy of a life well lived is inextricably linked with the faith in what we are in relation to creation, and to what I know as God. So I’ll reach for the proffered hand and look for the light – and be glad that right now the clouds have lifted and the sun has appeared.


  1. It is difficult. Is it wrong that a wish for comfort should be a basis for faith? I have trouble with this theologically - it seems egocentric, an oversimplified convenience. On the other hand, when dealing with one's own mortality such considerations may become almost churlish and I could well understand, to borrow your comparison, that the source of the light or helping hand would not matter, only that they were there at all.

    The many conditional phrases betray my youth, I hope not to have to face this question for some time.

  2. Good to have you back, Sag. I lean more and more to the simplicity of faith as I realise I have no merely intellectual way of defining it.

  3. Read this quote (via Bear Grylls' account of his Everest ascent in 'Facing Up') about the great hymn writer John Wesley who when asked by a cynic whether God was his crutch replied "No, my God is my backbone".

  4. Chris, I met your son Ewan at the blc conference last week. I was reading his blog when I saw his link to your blog and wondered what his mum might have to say. I was moved by your comments on the funeral, and particularly by your thoughts about people choosing to face the dark alone. I think we've stressed so much the strength of the individual that many people feel they can or must do everything in life by themselves, including facing death. Just think of how surprised they must be when they discover that their deaths are not an end but a beginning. Unfortunately, the friends they've left behind probably won't know that truth until their own curtain closes. Thanks for your insight.