Death

I read a very moving account of death, or rather dealing with the dead, today at Velveteen Rabbi. In her post Facing impermanence Rachel shares a very intimate encounter with taharah (the traditional Jewish process for preparing the deceased for burial). Rachel was asked to help prepare the body of an elderly lady for burial. This process is typically performed by well respected people of the deceased’s community. The following are some snippets of Rachel’s account of the taharah. While there initially is a sense of apprehension you find that as the taharah proceeds she is “strangely calm”.

It’s one thing to contemplate why the Torah tells us that touching a corpse makes one tamei but the act of preparing a dead body for burial is the ultimate act of taharah; it’s another thing to face that reality in an embodied way.

Jewish tradition teaches that the body of someone who has died must be treated like the sacred vessel that it has been, and pre-funeral practices grow out of the principle of kavod ha-meit, honoring the dead.

Sprinkle sand from the Mount of Olives on her eyes, then don the facecloth and bonnet. Tie every set of strings so that the loops form a letter shin, representing Shaddai, a name of God.

The sand we trickled onto her eyelids was pale and golden, and somehow that was the moment when the irreversibility of the process hit me. It reminded me of the morning blessing praising God Who removes sleep from our eyes and slumber from our eyelids. Some say the Jerusalem sand is used so that the first thing she “sees” in the World to Come will be the soil of the holy land, but to me it felt like we were providing the flipside to that morning blessing. In this embodied life we thank God for opening our eyes; now we were marking the closing of her physical eyes. Maybe her neshama no longer needed eyes to see.

I felt strangely calm throughout. It was strange, seeing a body with no soul in it; stranger still to wash her, an act that seemed impossibly intimate; but I was okay. I felt an outpouring of tenderness, occasionally giving in to the impulse to stroke her hair or her arm, thinking, “it’s okay, dear. We’re here. You’re okay.”

A little awkwardly we lifted her and placed her atop the white sheet we had laid over the plain pine box, and wrapped the sheet over her, and then, suddenly, out of the blue, I was shaking with silent tears. I leaned on the edge of the coffin of a woman I had never known, and understood what we had done for her, and wept and wept.

I am struck by the contrast in the intimacy with which this community does this for each other versus the sterile, impersonal approach of most Christian funeral preparations. We hire a professional, with their catelogs of trinkets who likely never met the deceased, to preserve the body and attempt to present the body in such a way to appear familiar to loved ones. We parade by the casket telling ourselves, absent from the body … present with the Lord, paying our last respects to the deceased body laying there. This seems to me somewhat convoluted and a bit disjointed. Certainly not the “final act of respect towards someone who cannot conceivably repay it” as is the intention of the taharah.

What a Slackard

I had not realized how long it has been since I last posted. Yikes, almost two weeks; where have I been? Now I never promised myself I was going to make very regular, predictable entries, but one of the reasons I started this blog was to document the condition my head and heart were in at any given point in time to then enjoy the look back sometime in the future. Another purpose has been to document the odd synapse where that light goes on and I realize I just discovered something about myself. Admittedly, sometimes it is more serious than others. In adition to simply documenting these things, another intention was to share what goes into the making of me as I travel this journey. In looking back on posts of this type, I realised there has been only one post that actually shows me.

Well, I have a few thoughts, ideas and other morsels simmering that I’d like to serve here over the next little bit. I’ll try not to let it be another half-a-month till I do so.

Answers to Meesh’s Five

Another set of 5 interview questions, this time from [url=http://meesh.blogdrive.com/]Meesh[/url]. Remember, if you would like to participate leave a comment saying “interview me” and I will give you your very own set of 5 questions that you answer on your blog and then make a similar offer to interview someone else. So, on to Meesh’s questions.

1. Your children are in their teen years and pretty soon they will be out the house, is there anything you look back on and wish you would have done differently as they were coming up and what do you do now to give them their “father” time? What is the most important thing you hope to pass on to them, and what hopes do you have for them in their adult years?

Yes, there certainly is. We relocated when the kids were quite young. Nicole was three and a half and Jared was six months. With my bride being an only child, our kids were her parents’ only grandchildren and as it has turned out they have been my parent’s only grandchildren as well.

My father-in-law’s health was never strong for as long as I knew him and it was about five years after we moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania that he passed away. Eventually, my mother-in-law moved in with us. Her health was deteriorating and my bride became her fulltime caregiver. This was a very trying time for us, but we were very thankful to have her with us. The kids and I witnessed a side of my bride that we had taken for granted. We saw unconditional love demonstrated before our very eyes in a way that still brings a lump to my throat. Then on a Saturday morning in November of 2000 I received a phone call telling me that my dad passed away unexpectedly. I still remember the look in my mother-in-law’s eyes when she told me how sorry she fealt for me. It was August of the following year that she too passed away.

What exactly does this have to do with what I wish I would’ve done differently? I wish I would not have removed our children from our parents’ daily lives. They have missed out on so much opportunity to know each other. It is not that I think moving to North Carolina was necessarily a wrong decision, I just stuggle with what I have prevented by doing so.

Regarding their “father” time, both my bride and I try to “make dates” with each of the kids. About ever other week we each take a different one out for dinner on the same evening. These are very special times and then my bride and I get together and share all about the evening.

The one thing I hope they both take away from my interaction with them as their father as well as how they see me interact with others is that people are to be taken seriously and that ‘the other person’ is likely coming from a different place in life but that does not dismiss the reality of that place to them. Now my hopes for them in the future is to realize every last dream they have ever dreamt… and to do so within twenty miles of my bride and I 😉 oh, and gobs of grandbabies!

2. How do you keep yourself faithful in your walk with God?

I can not honestly say that I have kept myself faithful in my walk. In fact here lately I am stuggling with being completely honest with God. My prayer life recently has been kinda like when I had to tell my parents that I ran the ’72 Chevy wagon off the road while driving friends home before my parents got home from work when I was not supposed to have any friends over when my parents were not home — avoiding eye contact and reluctant to get to the point. In spite of this, I am drawn to desire that faithful walk… oh, to submit.

3. What do you think is the most overlooked issue in the world today? What invention do you think the world would have been better without?

The assumption that one’s patriotism is somehow indicative of one’s faith. This sentiment has been stewing in me for awhile but came to a full boil one Sunday morning just before Vetrans Day. I had been reading about the lives of believers in countries such as China and I found myself considering that on this particular Sunday morning, as the sun rose over various parts of the globe, other believers would be expressing their love and praise to our Lord as I was. In this way I was very connected to these brothers and sisters. It was during this contemplation that we were asked to stand and pledge allegiance to the flag. All connections snapped.

Now, the invention that the world would be better without — that would be the cell phone with the television as a close second and the honey-do jar somewhere in there as well 😀

4. What things do you do to edify your bride, and how do you lead your children in honoring and respecting her?

Put down whatever I am doing and listen. It has taken me the better part of the last twenty years to just begin to get this one; simple but hardly easy. Where the kids are concerned, if they witness a less than edifying word from my mouth, it is important that also witness the requisit appology.

5. I know G220 is the name you got from Galatians 2:20, is there any other verse that speaks to your life so well? What man of the bible has inspired you in your walk with God, and which one do you think you are most like and why?

Ahh, finally an easy one, except maybe for the last part 😉 Another verse that speaks to me is Psalm 27:1. This is the verse I shared at my Baptism and, like Galatians 2:20, is deeper the more you consider it. One of the men of the Bible that has inspired me would be Abraham. Oh, to be considered God’s friend. Now, who am I most like and why… probably Jonah — see answer to question 2.

Questions Begging Answers

Below are my replies to 5 — or 7 depending on how you count them 🙂 interview questions posed to me by Jess at ~Captured Thoughts~

If YOU would like to submit yourself to an interview:
1. Leave me a comment saying, “interview me.”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions (not the same as you see here).
3. You will update your blog/site with the answers to the questions.
(If you don’t have a blog, let this inspire you to begin one!!)
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Now, to Jess’ questions:

Desire to Go Deeper

I had created the category Journey as a place to document various inputs, be they thoughts, experiences or discoveries, that I stumble upon. Rattling about in my head lately is the thought that I really deire to surround myself with those that wish to go deeper. This is less a comment on the ability of my aquaintances to hold their mental breath but more on a longing to delve and question without fearing a nasty case of the bends when returning to the surface.

I have been involved in a handful of small groups of men that have met over coffee early some mornings. Most of the groups have been organized with a specific book chosen to read and discuss. These tend to be proper baptist books from authors like Henry Blackeby and such. Yes, I’ve even gone through Mr. Warren’s PDL… twice (arrggg). Another group I’ve been involved with has been walking through the New Testament a chapter every week or two. This has been quite enjoyable as each participant takes a turn leading the group for a chapter. This also has been the most edifying and the closest to an accountability arrangement I have had in my life outside of my marriage. Interestingly, this is also a multi-denominational, multi-racial group as well — and this group devotes at least as much time each week to supplication and intercession as to Bible study.

Back to my point. When sitting with these fellows and discussing various topics of life and our Christian walks, I often hear the odd, trite, Christian cliche tossed about. Often the look on the face of the tosser is that of great satisfaction that he has just shared such a deeply insightful truth. It takes all I can muster to refrain from cringing or letting out a good belly laugh at the juvenility of the statement. Sadly, the truth is that we put a great deal of effort into possessing a repetoire of appropriate cliches. Yea verily, all too often I am guilty of this sport and I do have quite the quiver full of cliches.

So, in lieu of these trite tidbits and snappy soundbites what are we to do? First, I imagine we need to give up the presumption that something always needs to be said. Second, think deeply about what is to be said. Third, consider if it is appropriate to be said. Fourth, if the moment is still viable then, and only in fifty percent of the cases, say it. For example, I routinely hear parables described as “earthly stories with heavenly meaning.” Cute, but not very provoking. How about if we consider, as N.T. Wright does,

“What would we have to do as the people of God in order to make people outside the church say in frustration or anger or surprise, ‘why are you doing that,E’ such that would call forth from us fresh stories of explanation.”

Not exactly a thought to which you smile and say “good one.”

— quote lifted from a talk by N.T.Wright available at ntwrightpage entitled Jesus and the Kingdom.

A Great Read

I have yet to be disappointed by reading posts from Rachel. She always causes me to think, I mean really think.

I recall when I first stumbled onto Jewish Anitquities by Flavius Josephus and then read some about Philo of Alexandria and the idea of history and philosophy being preserved by the contemporaries of the time took on a whole new depth. On some level I always just took the Old Testement to be my only access to Jewish history and that was that; never really giving it much further thought. This coming from someone who considers The Arcanum and Longitude both entertaining and enjoyable reads. I was thrilled that I now had access to such Jewish historical writings.

Well, Rachel’s research routinely adds to my to-read list. She does so by sharing and communicating her quest to understand or grasp her heritage in a way that makes it thoroughly enjoyable to tag along for the ride. In her recent post, Origins of Jehovah she provides some very interesting history of the Tetragrammaton. Everything that I have read by The Velveteen Rabbi has been thought provoking, well researched and downright enjoyable. Looking for a great read?…

Christmas Post

Well, I figured it was about time that I make my obligatory Christmas post. My bride tells me I am the consummate procrastinator, or was that instigator — never mind, you get my point. As you may remember, I was in Europe back in October and it was during this trip that a particularly poignant message entered and then began relentlessly echoing about in my mind.

The Saturday morning that I began my return trip home was a pleasant morning, all things considered. Whenever beginning a multi-legged bit of travel I enter into what I will call a zone. While not mindless, there is a certain absence of the “here and now”. I realize that a commuting stub-of-the-toe could mean a serious delay in arriving home. The zone affords me a state of mind that avoids a great deal of worry and anxiety.

I make it to the train station in Mons BE with almost 20 minutes to spare. I take a seat on my bag and wait. I have never taken a high speed train before so I allow myself a little excitement. After all, I am early. I take my seat on the train and before long we are moving, but not all that fast. However, after we are clear of the urban area we go, and go fast, and so smooth…

I arrive in north Paris where I must connect with the train to

Charles de Gaulle Airport. It is on this particular train that the message that placed a headlock on my spare thoughts right on through Thanksgiving, Christmas and into the New Year takes hold. I enter the train and place my bag on the floor between my legs and let out an ever so slight sigh. Another leg of the journey ends uneventfully and another begins. The doors close and we are about to pull out when I hear a small, but sincere voice, “mesdames et messieurs, pour vous.” She is slight in stature and very Mediterranean in appearance including a hijab (sp?). I look at her as she places her satchel on the floor in front of where she stands. It is precisely now that I think a thought; a thought that I am not very proud of; a thought that startles me from my zone. This thought I think is — I am about to blow up.

The doors are closed and locked and the train begins to move; excape is futile. Then she begins. It is a haunting song with dark vocals. A couple of verses into the moment and I now think I am not going to blow up. The embarrassment is real and is not a result of having such a silly thought, but rather of so mindlessly jumping to an unfounded conclusion and so quickly falling prey to such fear.

Now I must tell you that my conversational French is barely enough to keep me fed and off the streets at night. Regardless, I am gripped by her song. I pick up on what I think is a story about a mother and her small child. The haunting melody and her soulful voice; this woman has experienced the loss a child. It was so real. She garnishes a small sum from the riders and exits at the next stop and there I sit, effected.

For me this Christmas was very much a matter of celebrating a real child being born to a real mother who will eventually experience a real loss and here I sit, effected.

Masks or No Masks

In a recent post, more accurately in the comments of said post, a little discussion has birthed that has me contemplating the legitimacy, honesty and truth of masks. The masks in this discussion are those we apply to suite the perceptions of/by us and those we encounter. Clint contends, with expected wisdom, that “[he] would rather be known for who [he is]”. He also asks the question “If our relationship is one of trust and honesty, why the need for a mask?”

I must fully agree with Clint that masks of a dishonest, manipulative and even subversive nature are destructive to relationships. However, I think this idea of masks is nuanced and I would like to explore some of these nuances. By the way, I don’t think Clint’s comments were addressing these subtleties, but rather the damaging masks mentioned earlier. I’ll let him speak to that. For me, I will toss out two scenarios; one fictional, the other very real.

First imagine that I am travelling though Clint’s neck of the world and arrange (upon sworn secrecy) to sit down in person with him and chat in between flights. My flight is arriving late and I am exhausted, but very excited about meeting the mystery man. Clint, on the other hand, has been working hard all day long. In fact he just left a meeting with a troubled friend and drove through some nasty traffic to meet with with me. His mind is very much still on the details of his friend’s situation. I find him by the food court and we pick a table. Clint buys me a large coffee… and a cinnamon roll — hey, it’s my post so Clint buys! We sit down and Clint asks how my flight was. I know there is precious little time for Clint and I to get to know each other so I dismiss his comments with a quick, “not too bad.”, and smile! I ask Clint how things are going for him and, knowing that my connecting flight is not delayed and time is limited, he sets aside his concerns from his recent meeting and looks me in the eye and says,“been a demanding day, but we’re not here to talk about that. Tell me about yourself.” Is this not a dance of masks, albeit a legitimate and even potentially constructive dance?

My second scenario happened a little over four years ago. My parents were in Florida for the wedding of the son of some dear friends of theirs. Saturday morning — day of the wedding — my father has a massive heartattack and dies. I take the phone call that Saturday morning and beginning packing to drive to PA the next morning. My mom spends Saturday arranging to have the body returned to PA. Sunday I drive the 7+ hours spending most of it considering how I will face my mom; what will I say? I reach my parent’s home and walk to the door. When I enter my mom quickly approaches me and we embrace. I hold her tight and whisper,“It’s going to be alright.” Another mask. Every ounce of me wanted to cry,“It’s just not fair!” Instead I squeezed tighter. I donned the mask of the strong, steadfast, reliable, eldest child. What this mask said was true but what it presented was less than honest. Was it not legitimate? Was it not what my mom needed?

Wanted: Pigeonhole

I seem to be missing something. Not something that I think I ever had, but something I seem to think I should have. What I find myself without is my very own pigeonhole. A concise, precise, preferably one word, pigeonhole. I say my very own, but truthfully I would gladly share. In fact a shared pigeonhole provides a certain degree of legitimacy to said hole. Furthermore, a standalone pigeonhole is often seen as quirky and even deprived.

Now, I have given this a great deal of thought (certainly too much some may say). Considering my last name and lineage, and the fact that I grew up in the southern Berks, northern Lancaster counties of Pennsylvania, one may assume that I can pigeon myself into the hole that is an Anabaptist of the oldest order. While I do so admire the Mennonites I grew up around, sadly I do not count myself among them. No, I must admit that the humility with which they approach their lives and their community is foreign to me. Not to mention that without electricity I would never be able to stay current with all the blogs.

Another potential pigeonhole that I have not lived up to is that of a trade laborer. My father, uncles, cousins and generations prior built things; machines, walls, cabinets even whole houses. Not I. While I am rather handy around the house, my living is made on my rump.

I fancied myself an artist at one series of points in my life, but then life itself took over and art is not all that practical now… is it? Odd that I should mention practical as this is another pigeonhole I am unable to claim. Simply asking those intimate to my life will reveal this truth. While considering those loved ones, I am tempted to claim fatherhood, but as somewhere near fifty percent of all parents are fathers, it is too broad to be a real pigeonhole.

When I truthfully and honestly boil it all down, my heart beats with the desire to be placed into the pigeonhole known as a follower of Christ. However, it breaks my heart to face myself and realize that in this endeavor I fall more short than any of the others I have listed above. Oh yes, I am a believer in Christ and I have seen my faith confirmed and reinforced time and time again. Why is it then that I am troubled considering myself a follower Christ?

Cold Feet

Here I am (guy on the right) with two friends taking a dip in a fjord off the North Sea in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. This picture was taken on June 22, 2002 and yes, the water was quite cold. In the time it took for another friend to snap three or four pictures, my toes became noticeably numb.

As I’ve been gathering my thoughts regarding this spiritual journey I am on, some memories of my physical travels came to mind. I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to travel and meet some wonderful people and make some friends from a wide range of places. The two others in the photograph are Eric and Cyril; both from France (Auvergne and Paris respectively). Aude, Eric’s girlfriend (also from Paris), snapped the picture. Eric and Aude are currently living in China and will be getting married in October. While my family and I have been invited to the wedding, sadly, we are unable to go. It has been two years since I have traveled abroad and I do so miss it. Mary on the othe hand, dislikes flight travel enormously so our destinations together are somewhat limited.

One of my favorite photos from Norway is this picture of the midnight sun. This was snapped about 12:15am on Jun 22; the longest day of the year. The clouds were great in that they allowed me to take the picture directly into the sun. The light from the sun still created a darker image than reality so I turned to the right about 60 degrees and snap this picture below to show the actual “daylight” at just after midnight.

My spiritual travels have not been as broad or as picturesque, however they are no less personal and have also been the conduit for many friendships and experiences. Well then, stay tuned; my journey or mon voyage ainsi pour parler . . .