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Monday, January 22, 2007


Every now and again, life forces the recognition of parallel universes. Directly across the street from the life I believe in, the one that makes sense much of the time, the one I feel passionate about, was a funeral that I attended yesterday. It plunged me completely into a forgotten world of yesteryear.

It followed the ancient unpublished manuel of traditional Mennonite rites of passing. The tiny church was stuffed to capacity with relatives and grey-haired acquaintences, hot and silent, pressed into unforgiving wooden pews. Tante Leine had passed 90 years, living a decent, responsible, uncontroversial life. She was now stuffed with chemicals, laid on white satin, her waxy skin twisted into a mien of peace and serenity. Her costly wooden vehicle was ferried up the aisle by a hundred or so black-suited grandsons accompanied by the crowd's utter, solemn silence. The only sign of life rose from the beading forehead of the nephew/preacher taught to believe that he was born for a such a time as this. A church filled to capacity with inadequate exits. An audience committed to his message of moral obligation and spiritual laws.

The faintly familiar scents of Fear and Guilt rose in the air, blending with old man sweat and lost ambition. The air settled thick and unforgiving around us as we shifted in our vertical, wooden positions and took in his message . We too, could anticipate eternal life with no more pain after only 90 or so years of living well behaved. If we only said the right words, spent our lives preparing for that prepared place, did some deeds as proof of our transformation. The usher shifted, and rose to employ his long hooked stick to open a few windows. The air had grown increasingly stangnant. The pianist swished into place, hair held unbending and disciplined in its netting. Arms stiff at our sides, we sang slowly, methodically of joy, times without tears, and circles unbroken. We sang with heavy sighs, through our barely parted lips and clenched teeth. The torpid air rose heavy into the cramped balconey as we squirmed in our uncomfortable shoes, breath baited in anticipation of the closing prayer.

Back in my universe, I gulped lungs full of crisp, clean air. Eternal life surely begins NOW and not in a century or so of held breath. If we are loved by our creator, we are loved to be free and the fullness of life springs from being so intimately known by God, and loved anyway. That abundance of love pours surely out of us like a fresh water spring, requiring precious little of our own human determination. Church exists in people- vulnerable in their questions, failures, and brokenness. Received by a love and compassion so broad, so mysterious, that no amount of resolute good behavior could have created it.

I mean no disrespect to Tante Leine. None at all.

I'm just so glad to slip out of my constricted sunday shoes and dance with the smells of life- giving rains on the soil of my reality.


Homo Escapeons said...

That was one of the most well written posts that I have ever
..seriously..EVER read.
I was transported to that funeral.

Which I regret because I hate funerals but I understand that we need some sort of ceremony to comfort those of us attending who aren't on display in a gigantic $5,000 keepsake.

Caskets are a truly bizarre piece of furniture..on the one hand we seal them up tighter than the Space Shuttle to prevent the Elements from recycling our carbon based body and yet Mother Nature is going to deconstruct us from within thanks to about 25 pounds of bacteria already present inside of us.

If we believe that we shall be re-constructed at the final curtain call then it really shouldn't matter what shape we're in when we leave..and unfortunately many of us will exit stage left in less than ideal condition. ..and don't get me going on the absurd waste of real estate that we squander burying them...out of sight out of mind I suppose.

Your message rings true..Life is for the Living and we need to appreciate it as much as possible.
Eternity sounds like a very long time to contemplate how great it was to be alive and go over our 'IF ONLY I HAD DONE THIS' list.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

and i just had to quote you on my blog. i didn't think you'd mind.

Anonymous said...

The way you put words together in this post is truly profound. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

How true.

How very very true.

Judy -

Anonymous said...

beautifully written joyce...

lettuce said...

this is a wonderful post Joyce, moving and beautifully written - and TRUE!

oh, and I nearly forgot, what I came particularly to say is that I've tagged you. See my blog for details.

lettuce said...

By the way, did you ever watch Six Foot Under? There is an episode where Nate (Jr.) is buried and having grown up and worked in a funeral home, he's said that he wants no cosmetic work etc. once dead, and wants a "natural"/ecological funeral. He is buried in a wicker casket in natural woodlands. And the family choose to actively bury him themselves, sweating with muddy spades.

It was so very moving, and your description of this funeral made me think of it.

(though of course your post is more about living than about dying, which is what is so powerful about it)

Anonymous said...

....well at least there was a piano....ouch...poor tante Helen...what a surprise for her when she enters heavens gates and sees the joy and happiness awaiting her there....may she dance with the angels forever more...great post Joyce....Lindalew (the grocery store lady : )

Joyce said...

HO- Death rituals are something you and I could pound the table about for many hours, and land up laughing anyway. Your comment gave me chills because I know you don't lie, and your compliment (coming from a writer and a friend, but not the sort of friend who would say that to get points) made me cry. Thank you so much.

Michele: actual employed author-Michele. You made me cry.
And I'm so proud of you!!!!!!!!! What's it like to be published?

Linda, Judy, Esther... Well, lets get dancing then! Whoops, I forgot.... I can not dance. I love music, I love the concept of dancing, but I am inept.

Letty- OOOOH, a tag! I used to watch 6 foot under sometimes when I struggled to stay awake on night shifts. Which just made it an even weirder show, as I was watching it while sleep deprived. I'd like to learn more about natural funerals. Isn't there a law against that? I thought that death was completely commercialized, and subject to a bunch of fees, and laws, and bills to pay.

grocery store: (I'm glad you caught that in my previous post!)
I love the perspective you left here. I'm happy to think of her in that way.

Rosster said...

I received an email yesterday which included quotations of people (some famous) who publicly mocked God and ended up dead a short time later, and thus an argument was given as to why we must fear God and submit our lives , blah, blah, blah. My emotional response was somewhere between putting my fist through the wall, moving to Tibet, or renouncing my faith (in no particular order) BUT THEN...
I read your post and felt an overwhelming sense of hope.
Joyce you have a gift...I will be in the line to buy your book someday...

Here's to leaving those Sunday shoes in the closet.


Joyce said...

D- feel like I'm in your basement family room all over again... there's so much to say. Your comment and optimistic prediction leave me hopeful I've not been buried by Berenstain Bears and wet wipes, and I'm grateful.

Aside from that, I've nothing firm to say about your theological e-mail. Shouldn't we be powered by love? How can the fear of dying empower us to love our neighbor and to live selflessly? Yet, the concept of a submission to a God who knows and loves everyone makes sense to me. The concept of God being very, very big, and powerful makes sense to me. But didn't his death and our justification erase our condemnation?

Meet you and the gang at small group in my mansion in glory?

Anonymous said...

Hey Joyce, would you keep your mind out of Darrel's basement!?

Anonymous said...

That was beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

Joyce, that was THE best ever. Thesaurus or not.....WOW. Question, you were late to the funeral because you were staring out your window waiting to get the best funeral shot?!?!!! I sure hope Al & Carla read this one. Way to go sister, don't ever stop. Katie

Rosster said...

I hope your memories from our basement gatherings are mostly good ones despite the grumpy, and more often than not, confused, cynic in the beanbag chair...(ce moi)

I agree with your responses. I too believe God is big, good, trustworthy, and mysterious. Our response should be submission and love and i am not nearly good enough at either of these things. I think what annoyed me with the email is that it (like others I seem to get) seemed so scripted. The honesty of your blog and your life (and brian's) is refreshing, and i find hope in that.


Joyce said...

D- that group was the one I often tell others was THE ONE. That dynamic that would be hard to reproduce, and I've never even felt like trying to. In your words, it was unscripted, honest, refreshing. And isn't that what scared the church? It seems we would be difficult to make to lie down and make nice. The Jesus I know wouldn't actually fit into a million dollar church very well at all. Nor do I think he would be all that excited about the tidy formulas humans tend to develop. I constantly pray for wisdom and understanding, because I recognize that I may have my head just as far up my *** as the people who I do not resonate with seem to.
This may just have to morph into a post, if I carry on like this much longer....!
Thanks for the thought provocation.

Anonymous said...

If only this kind of perspective could be contagious, I would first infect each of my children and then send them to church, to infect the other kids for a change.

I would like to see the faces of each member of our congregation come down with a serious case of the "Joys"

Phenomenal writing, thank you.


Anonymous said...


I can't think of anything more articulate to say. Just, wow.

My favorite lines:
"Back in my universe, I gulped lungs full of crisp, clean air. Eternal life surely begins NOW and not in a century or so of held breath."

Wow. And...beautiful. Utterly beautiful.