Monday, November 25, 2013

Creation, Community and Cemeteries

If you stop to read titles before launching into the prose of these inspirational pieces, this current title must baffle the reader.  Other than beginning with the same letter of the alphabet, there seems to be little in common with these three words.  There is certainly nothing obvious to connect them.           

A second thing these three words have in common that would not be evident is the inspiration for this reflection.  Most of the inspiration came from two students who are now my friends.  Faculty often complain about “grading.”  Some aspects of that are unappealing.  But anyone who grows up on a farm knows that that life has some unappealing aspects, too!  However, when I have a chance to read papers from students and to be privy to their experience, their creativity and their learning, I am usually made better for the process.           

Recently I had that privilege of reading their papers.  They were reflecting on some ideas from Kathleen Norris’ book, The Cloister Walk.  That is a favorite book of mine, so it is fun to watch students engage it and wrestle with insights from Norris’ life.  Let’s turn to the three “C” words with a couple borrowed ideas from my students to be inspired for the day.           

The first word creation, I chose to go along with the other two “C” words that came from the students.  The reason I chose the word, creation, should be fairly obvious.  We never will make it to a cemetery unless we are born, live and die.  Creation is the acknowledgement that I am here.  I exist.  I was born---was created.  My parents certainly, and perhaps in my own theological understanding, God brought me into the world to be me.  I was given a name at birth, but I don’t think that was “me.”  The real “me” had to develop.             

Through experiences, learning, successes and mistakes we form an identity.  Part of my identity---part of “me”---is a spiritual identity.  I am spiritually a child of God.  That identity provides some of my meaning in life; it gives me purpose.  With effort and a great deal of grace we live our lives to some significant end.           

That leads to the second “C” word, community.  There is no way any of us would know who our “me” is without some kind of community.  Without question much of modern American life is propelled by self-interest.  We can hear it in the language: “watch out for #1.”  Of course, I am #1!  There is emphasis on individualism.  We are out to “get what is ours.”  This is reinforced by the urgency to “get yours while the getting is good.”             

One of my students has discovered the necessity of community as the antidote to rampant individualism.  My student got it right when she observed that each of us does better when we “become a part of something that lasts.”  If we become part of a community, we say we become “members.”  And every time the community comes together, we are re-membered---remembered.  Again, my student put it effectively when she acknowledged, “to be remembered is as simple as being a part of something larger.”          

I give thanks for my communities.  If we are really rich, we are members of more than one community.  There are communities made up of family, friends, churches, synagogues, teams, partnerships, and the list goes on.  But think about how many people are not really members---effective members---of a team.  If you are not effectively a member of a community---a group---then this probably could be the smartest, best gift you could give to yourself---and to others.  Do this before you die.           

And this leads to the third “C” word, namely, cemetery.  A second student brought a paper that reflected on life, death, and then what remains.  For most of us, the remains are buried in the cemetery---“our final resting place,” as I heard it called in my boyhood years.  I am old enough to have buried parents and some friends.  I don’t know that I have thought too much about cemeteries until I read my young friend’s paper.  He begins by acknowledging the cemetery to be both a sad and beautiful place.           

He is wise beyond his years.  For example, he said that he wants “to be next to people I love because you are only as good as your people.”  That sounds like an argument for good communities!  Then he develops this idea by hoping that he can be buried “next to my role models and mentors.”  What a thought!  No one has asked me if they can be buried next to me.  Maybe I have more modeling and mentoring to do!           

Finally, my friend says the cemetery is “like an insurance policy.  The insurance policy will only be as good as your life and relationships you build before you die.”  I value these two young friends who are, temporarily at least, part of my community.  I trust they will always be part of my spiritual community, even if we go physically our separate ways.  I don’t know where I will be buried, but I would be ok if it were between them!

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