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It followed the ancient unpublished manuel of traditional Mennonite rites of passing.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.