As a priest and pastor I have, for over 41 years, dealt with funerals. The emphasis has shifted (for the better I think) from imploring God to take the individual into heaven, to celebrating the persons’ life.
I have officiated at two funerals since the celebration of my mother’s life in December. And in each I have become quite aware of the stories told – of the life lived – of the ways in which their life reached out and intertwined for good in the lives of others. Yet thinking about it – it has been the same throughout the years. We gather and in the gathering stories are told and memories are shared.
But a question remains – “Why do we wait for death to celebrate a life?” What if we were to intentionally share with another what their life has meant in my life? What power that would release for good in the world! It is the power that has taken It’s a Wonderful Life from box-office flop to become a Christmas classic. Most of us, like George Bailey, do not have a sense of the good we have done, or the lives we have affected. We are aware of the dreams we have not fulfilled, of the annoyances and the obstacles we face. And we wonder is it worth it?
I find that there have been one or two instances of people sharing with me the effects of a conversation or interaction that I never thought about or even recall. Things that were profound for them and a significant influence on the path of their life. And in the sharing I have heard that each of our lives makes a difference and that we can be Good News to others in ways we do not comprehend.
I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions but I have an internal resolve to thank people who have made a difference in my life and tell them the difference their friendship has made and why I celebrate them. And I hope that part of that will be done by telling stories about them that celebrate them and their life while they are present to hear it.
Let us celebrate the lives of others while they live not just when they die. To do so is a gift both for us and for them. They hear that their life has had meaning and we are given a chance to learn from them and to express gratitude. This in its own way is a small foundation stone in re-making the world as God would have it. Re-creating the world as a place of connection, caring and gratitude. And that in itself is a description of a celebration.