I did a hard funeral recently for a parishioner I also considered a friend. Our relationship formed when we discovered we were both committed practitioners of (Presbyterian) Christianity and yoga. (Even though, as I pointed out in my meditation at his funeral, Greg didn’t exactly have the body type one might associate with yoga.) Every week, we worshipped together on Sundays, and every week, we took a class (not the same one) at The Yoga Center of Columbia http://www.columbiayoga.com. We liked the same teachers, and both adored the director/owner, Kathy.
It was a rough funeral. In 20+ years, I’ve been privileged to be part of the funerals of people I consider dear friends, and it’s a gift I’m honored to give. But it’s rough. And this was no exception. But this one was different in one very startling way: The owner/director of our yoga center, Kathy, was going to be there, and I imagined how she would hear the words we Presbyterian ministers say at funerals – words I’ve said myself hundreds of times without a second thought.
Hearing them the way Kathy might, clear, compassionate, grounded, light- and joy-filled Kathy who obviously loves this life, opened my ears to how the Puritan work ethic overshadowed so much of the service. I’ve always hated and refused to sing a hymn called “Come, Labor On” with it’s line “Who dares stand idle…” because we here in the 21st century sure don’t need to be told to work harder. But I had never realized our funeral language about heaven reveals how we think this life is a burden, not the “holy and joyful life” we’ve been given as a gift by our Maker. Instead, what message about life do you hear in the phrases: “We give you thanks for all those who have kept the faith, finished their race, and who now rest from their labor;” or “receive this person into the blessed rest of everlasting peace;” or “O Lord, support us all the day long, until ……. the fever of life is over, and our work is done…..” All this language about how in heaven we’ll be free from work and be resting – So what exactly do we believe is the purpose of this life, if in heaven we expect to escape all that?
Yes, we are busy – too busy. Yes, we are running the race – but do we have to run? Can’t we amble? Do we have to be in the race at all? (The problem with the rat race is that win or lose, you’re still a rat. Lily Tomlin) Yes, we live at a feverish pace, but is that what our Maker intends?
I read this article recently designed to help us determine how “type A” we are:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/13/are-you-a-type-a-or-type-_n_4549312.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009 And I gotta say, even though I’m thankful to be letting go of much of this, it’s a battle, because our culture places an extremely high value on almost every one of the 16 items on this list. In fact, it’s not even considered noble, it is considered baseline, to live this way. Don’t waste time. Work hard (overachieve, put in long hours and neglect your home life, if necessary.) Be conscientious and competent, and don’t tolerate incompetence in others. And the list goes on. And our Puritan brothers and sisters would be quite comfortable with this list. And these values and this list are reinforced by the language of a Christian funeral that emphasizes the hard work of life and the blissful peace and rest that await us.
And I won’t buy that version of this life. I cannot believe that is what the divine wants. For better or worse, and more to the point, I can’t live that. I am simply no longer capable. And it’s not because I’m middle-aged and tired (although I am), and it’s not because I’m not motivated, and it’s not because I just happen to be worn out by sadness right now. It’s because I do not believe the reason for this holy and joyful life is more work, longer hours, more productivity.
It’s a snow day here in Maryland. A great day to sit by the window and watch the flakes fly and the brave bird come to the feeder. And enjoy this amazing life. So, sorry Elden and LPC, I’m not working on the directory or the annual report. Sorry, Louisville Institute, nor am I working on my grant. Sorry I-phone, with your insistent reminders of things I mean to do. Sorry to everyone I owe a thank you note. And sorry household gods whose housework stares me in the face. Instead, I’m going to give nothing a try. What is it that Mary Oliver says? About witnessing the wonder of the sun’s setting, or asking “have you too turned from this world …. and gone crazy for power, for things?” (From Parker J. Palmer’s fb page.)