Wednesday, December 23, 2009

22. A Funeral

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God...

The Book of Wisdom

In my work as a church musician I find that I prefer to play for funerals rather than weddings. Before I am accused of being macabre, let me explain. Many couples come to Bar Harbor for "destination weddings" and treat the music for the ceremony as peripheral to the bride's gown, the flowers, the dinner and all that. Often the entire wedding party just seems eager to get to the reception afterwards and I end up feeling like the "hired help."

A funeral or memorial service is a different story, however. Music here is traditionally used to set a somber, soothing tone, and also allows mourners to recall memories of the beloved. But most of all it is able to express bereavement beyond words.

Last week I played for the funeral of a 20 year-old boy from Mount Desert Island. Benjamin had been at a party, drinking, and wandered outside where he passed out and died from exposure. From reading his obituary I determined that life had already thrown this sweet young man some hard knocks and I was captivated by this line: He will be missed by his canine companions Zoey and Danny.

About half an hour before the service I walked into the church to organize my music. Already there were two pews filled with stone-faced young women, staring silently ahead, full of grief and disbelief. Gradually the church filled to capacity with friends and relatives of this lobstering family, who was now facing the unthinkable. I played Bach and Brahms. Despite knowing that these works were most likely unfamiliar to the listeners, I played them anyway, confident of their ability to offer solace and comfort.

Our rector Jonathan tackled the circumstances of Benjamin's death head-on. He did not mince words about dying and acknowledged the questioning of God that was surely going on among the congregation. Why did God not save Benjamin? How could God let this happen?

Most of us have wondered the same... I grew up with a theology which encouraged me to believe in an all-powerful, omniscient God. This God had his finger on the world and controlled everything. Tragic events were somehow "God's will" and good people were rewarded with loving families and material success. I started the painful, never-ending process of questioning these beliefs while in college. And I see now that one's theology is never concrete; it ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, with the experiences life provides us.

It seems to me that what I call God is with us, period. In the bountiful times, the ordinary times, the horrific times, the brokenhearted times. There is nothing or no one who can protect us from life or death. We live, with all that encompasses, and we die. In the tragedy of Benjamin's young death my faith allows me to be comforted in knowing that in that cold, dark woods he was not alone.

No comments: