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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday Festival: An Answered Prayer

Kathryn's feet (r) in Cozumel, 2008, BE 1. Also one of Martha's.

This week's post comes from one of our founding ring member's, Kathryn, an Anglican vicar who blogs at Good in Parts. Those of us who've had the chance to meet Kathryn, who was with us on BE 1, will surely hear this in her lovely voice, as she brings us a redemptive word. Please leave her *your* lovely comments here or at her blog.

An answered prayer

"Lord, redeem my foul-ups" is often a good prayer to have on your lips...and two weeks ago, when it seemed to me that said foul-ups were reaching hitherto undreamed of depths, I prayed it alot..and then some more!
You know that a week is going badly when the funeral for a still-born babe is not the hardest thing you have to cope with...but why I'm blogging now is because, most wonderfully, my fervent prayer was actually answered.

You see, two weeks ago I discovered that I had been living inside my very own version of the Christmas edition of Rev.
In case you managed to miss this (honestly - the series is far too searingly close to the reality of clerical life to count as comedy - it's far closer to documentary, imho) , poor, wonderfully human Adam gets so seasonally harassed that he fails to visit an elderly parishioner - until it's too late.
In the week before Christmas I received a similar request - from someone who spends most of his life on the edge of society, having been homeless for a long time, and with most of the associated problems.
And being over busy, and rather nervous of the prospect of visiting a somewhat volatile guy and his housemate on their home turf, I tried to phone once, failed to get through, and moved on to the next item on the "seasonal busyness" list.

And, just as happened to Adam, I was shown the flaw in my prioritising when a very angry visitor at the vicarage informed me that his housemate was dead - and what sort of a sorry apology for a priest did I call myself anyway!
And of course he was right.
Fear prevented me from doing the right thing.
I took refuge in doing other things and let my needs trump those of the people I am here to serve.
So, I felt pretty wretched.

But the following day I was given another opportunity to respond - and got to a bedside in time.
And then, wonderfully, against all expectations, I found myself trusted to take J's funeral.

It happened yesterday.
Just a small gathering in church...a  handful of volunteers and clients of our local homeless project; a community police officer; a wonderfully warm and gentle funeral director; and a sober and dignified friend.
The flower printed cardboard coffin which had seemed (if I'm honest) just a wee bit naff in the catalogue was reassuringly, delightfully homely and beautiful in reality. You could imagine it sitting comfortably in an ordinary room...not claiming false dignity or pomp...
"I'm here..part of life's reality you know...And it can be surprisingly beautiful".
I found myself touching it and interacting with it in ways that I rarely do with those highly polished coffins that seem to be set on hiding the truth of the death that lies within.
Somehow the beautiful fragility of the coffin, that mirrored the fragility of the life that had ended - a life of hardship, alienation, struggle and, I believe, acceptance.

J had loved flowers - and the church was still beautiful with the flowers left from a far grander funeral last week, which made me smile.
I wept too, as J's best friend read some wonderful words that J himself had written reflecting on his life, his future and his hopes.
A member of the "Marah" family talked of his memories and read to us from The Message
We sang and we prayed and we sat in silence.
Some of the language I use for more conventional funerals just didn't find a place...but the right words came from somewhere. 
And then we followed J across town to the beautiful hillside cemetery and it was somehow incredibly right to be there, to take it in turns to throw handfuls of rich dark earth onto the coffin, to listen as S told us more about his friend, to delight as the sun broke through the clouds and the birds began to sing, a fragile chorus that promised spring to come.

We left S settling down with a drink in the sun...I pray that he'll be alright in the days ahead. Yesterday, we stood on holy ground together.


  1. This is beautiful, and redemptive for all of us (lay as well as clergy) who have often sinned by omission. I have to add, I was charmed and amazed by the idea of a cardboard coffin for burial -- somehow I don't suppose that would be legal here but it makes perfect sense to me.

  2. We may not have cardboard here, but I've seen styrofoam at a funeral paid for by the city. Which is awful and un-green as all get out.

  3. Amen. Beautiful post - and I did listen knowing K's voice :)

  4. I have seen a cardboard casket at a cremation -- and the family were given black Sharpies to write their farewells thereon -- it was gracious, and graceful, and comforting.


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