She took a breath before she stepped into the aisle that led to the altar, robed and prayerful, walking for before her husband’s coffin.
It was an ancient act, ritualizing all we hold sacred. How my friend found the courage and strength to stand in the pulpit and eulogize, pray, and sing for the man who was her heart, I have no idea. But that she did so was important. It was holy. It was church at its very finest.
In the midst of meetings, church planning, strategies for discipleship and busy-ness of keeping all those hearts, minds and church doors open, it’s easy to forget the soul of church – that feeling and that knowledge that compels us to abandon ourselves in God.
In her act of sorrow tinged with joy, my friend stood in the pulpit and reclaimed church.
Watching her, I thought of the quote from writer Annie Dillard: “There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscience, so apparently moral…But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.”
Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Area was at the funeral. Being new to the episcopacy, Johnson confessed that the one, and only, thing that made her ministry possible was prayer.
“Cease praying for a moment,” she said, “and chaos will descend.” Prayer enables possibility.
I think it was prayers – those of her husband, and all who love her, that held my friend as she walked before the coffin. I’m certain it’s what enables the best of the church to survive and thrive.
Despite the tragedy and heart-break, I found myself wishing there were more moments of authenticity and vulnerability in our congregations. How we spend our days is,” as Dillard says, “of course how we spend our lives.”
As a church, we need to spend our time more intentionally wrapped among sacred moments. Or maybe it’s just me – caught with a thirst for the holy.