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Singing Goodbye

For more than 25 years I have been asked or hired to sing at weddings and funerals. Though the music selected by families for either milestone event can be anywhere from inspirational to inappropriate, my experience has been consistently positive, moving and spiritually engrossing.  Both the happy and the sad are profound. Of the two events, though, singing as a stranger, to a group of friends and family of the deceased has had the most profound, didactic impact upon me and on my spiritual curiosity.

Even when a long, productive life is more celebrated than mourned during a funeral, I am touched by the universality of our struggle to understand the finality which is being marked in the ceremony. And, too often, young people leave this life due to accident or illness, and the expected sadness, combined with welling anger in the grieving ones, has not had time to find its form. So, the mourners are in a state of shock and disbelief, and that benumbed silence opens the heart of an unrelated observer to consideration of all things spiritual.

As I consider the ephemeral, the spiritual and the transient reality of our conscious time as sentient, flesh-and-blood beings of earth, my certainties evaporate. I am then pushed by certainty of our physical death to confront all assumptions of life’s value. For me, the existence of spirit is a given; one authoritative definition of the components of that spirit and of its journey, however, does not exist for me. The very human act of asking sincere questions about “eternity,” “God” and “spirit,” nonetheless makes me surrender to possibility. Because of these experiences, I will never judge the spiritual conviction of another person, even as I fully reject any judgment aimed at my lack of allegiance or specificity in matters of religion.

The point of this declaration is to affirm that most of the content of my outlook in these matters was formed between songs I have sung while sitting at the funerals of people I didn’t really know. I normally sit near the organ or piano, in the front of the rear of the sacred space. Looking out at the gathering from my seat, usually out of the sightlines of those in attendance, I am awash in the helplessness of the moment. A good speaker, minister, imam, rabbi or priest brings light to the moment with talk of the good of the physical life, now over, of the person in the casket. Good memories and times of hope are relived, if only fleetingly.

Yet, as I listen, motionless and powerless in the presence of the lost one and the ones who mourn the loss, the soul-teaching moment surrounds me. It becomes ever clearer that I can never know any tangible answer to the eternal, intangible question; I am ill-suited for any declaration of certainty, doctrine or loyalty to any denominational legacy or man-made narrative. As a living body and mind I can never know what having, and losing, physical life truly means to the spirit which does, I believe, exist.

Even so, I am warmed by the reality of our gathered kindnesses, all pressed to let go and all exposed to comforting uncertainty.  If put to best use, these moments offer unsurpassed opportunity to nourish tolerance among those of us willing to allow for, and wonder about, the eternity of shared spirit. 

Posted on Sunday, August 26, 2012 at 04:32PM by Registered CommenterCoEternity | CommentsPost a Comment

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