It has been my first time as Clerk of Hopewell Centre of being involved with the life, dying, death and memorial planning for a Friend. Also my first time of doing something like this since I declared out loud that God has called me to ministry. Sometimes just the naming of a process gives it a whole new feel, and this was one of those times.
Where before I might have said, "This is just too much for me to be involved in," and pulled back, I now felt I had a responsibility to be Present. Not just a responsibility; I wanted to be present.
Where once I might have glossed over things, performing the perfunctory tasks, I now found myself anticipating the needs of others, and desiring to go the extra mile, to seek where I might be of help, to encourage others to do the same.
It was a blessing of the greatest gifts to me as much to others. I received the opportunity to "officiate" at the graveside, to deliver a prayer, some scripture and some words of comfort. My first reaction to being asked was fear, but that was quickly replaced by a calm fortitude, as it was not me that had this work to do, but the inner Light, ministering through me.
Lest you think I have been spirited off to some other-worldly plane, I must tell you quickly that the acceptance of the gift of ministry has by no means wiped my slate clean of human frailty. Along with the acceptance of responsibility, came my the surfacing of my most common human traits: control, anxiety, misspoken words of correction, loss of patience, and an overwhelming sense of being more "right" than others.
So being a minister does not free one of one's humanness? Alas, as even Jesus knew, this is not the case. But my friend Bob, even in his human absence, ministered to me in this case. His wife said,
"Where is that scripture Bob liked, Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's? You can read that graveside, right?"
And so I went to Romans 14:
The Weak and the Strong1Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11It is written:
" 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
'every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.' "[a] 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food[b] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
And I read, and I read again, and I sat and I thought. And I laughed a little and gazed upward at the point where I imagined my white bearded Friend and his invisible, inperceivable, beyond that which is knowable Friend were laughing with each other, as they gazed down at me.
And I asked the forgiveness of myself, my God, and my friends for my erratic behavior, and once again tried to return to the humble place the Light had carved out to me, where I could be of some better service than my humanness had planned.
I can only be the best me that I can be. "And we are all being the best me's we can be," my friend Bob whispers in my ear, "and that is why we should do all the good we can, and do the least judging we can, and the most loving."
Yesterday I sat with my women friends after meeting for worship, and "debriefed" my experience of the memorial: all the things I felt could have been done differently, all the things we thought went well, and most of all, all the ways I wished I had behaved more graciously. We all were of one mind: that Bob's memorial was beautiful, that everything went just as he had planned it, and that we were all grateful to be present.
In the end we all came to the same conclusion: There is no way to anticipate every need, address every person in their individual personalities, define and list every process, meet every individual at their own very unique place. It is impossible. There is only one way to be "good enough."
One must live to the Lord. As in the example of Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, the many wonderful early saints, George Fox, Isaac and Mary Penington, Thomas Kelly, and so many of the Friends we encounter every day, the only way to be truly present is to live in the manner we belong to God.
If I cultivate a loving spirit that is in kinship with that of Jesus as he walked the earth, it does not mean that I will not make mistakes, that I will not lose my temper or say the wrong thing. But there is certainly a greater chance that those I encounter will encounter the Light through me. If in my daily practice, I endeavor to not judge others, to bring a spirit of Love, and to live to the Lord, then there is certainly a greater opportunity for me to meet God in them. This is the making of peace.
My friends, on the day of Bob's memorial and wake, I saw more faces of God than I might ever have seen before. And it was good.