That’s what I wanted to say.
If you know me, you know that I tend to be blunt. Awkwardly so.
Being that blunt objects aren’t allowed at funerals, I’ve had to learn the art of professional speak. Professional speak in the funeral business is the art of saying what you want to say without really saying it.
Situation Number 1:
Blunt Caleb: “When we picked your dad up from the nursing home, he was looking all purple and reddish, but after we embalmed him, we were able to flush the discoloration out of his face.”
Professional speak, “Your dad looks great.”
Situation Number 2:
Blunt Caleb: “Do you want that beard shaved off your mom’s face?”
Professional speak Caleb ignores asking that question all together and just shaves mom’s face.
Americans — maybe even Westerns as a whole — are impatient. We rarely have quiet. The TV’s constantly on. Our smart phones are ever at our side. Ear buds in our ears. Meditation is a foreign concept. Prayer is avoidable at all costs. And the patience learned in the silence is never attained. And then comes death and the silence that comes with it. The meditation. The prayer. The lack of words. And when the results of grief work don’t come immediately, we become impatient and think, “Something is dreadfully wrong with me!” And we’re right. We usually conclude that we’re deeply depressed; the reality may simply be that we’re deeply and intrinsically impatient, unable to find the peace in the silence that comes from death. Maybe we’re just as afraid of the silence as we are of death.
Death brings its own pace of life … its own schedule. It’s never convenient. But we want it to be. We want to control it. We want to put it on an itinerary that fits our fast paced, purpose driven lifestyles.
Perhaps that battle for control is nowhere more apparent than at a viewing, especially when the viewing line mimics the slow moving, long lines we see at a popular amusement park ride.
This past Saturday night, I stood there behind the register book, striking up conversation with people as they enter the sanctuary. The viewing line snakes around the church, down the hall and into the basement as we try to extend it through the corridors of the church so as to keep the line from going out into the cold elements of a Pennsylvania winter. The family of the deceased is taking their time, talking to each and every person who has come out on this chilly night.
“Other funeral directors stand by the family’s receiving line and tell them to keep their conversations short and simply”, one person stated.
“We don’t do that”, I said politely.
Another couple comes through the line and complains that they’ve been standing in line for half-an-hour AND by the look of things, they’ll probably be in line for another half-an-hour. “Can’t you do anything?” they beg.
I try to make a joke … I tell them that, like Disney World, we are going to create an express line, where you can bypass the crowd for a fee. “That’s a great idea”, they say. “We’d pay $50 to skip this line.”
After having this conversation about 10 times over the next hour, I’m getting tired of my joke and I’m getting tired of people complaining.
I want to pull them close to my face and whisper, “This isn’t about you.” But that would be blunt Caleb speaking and that Caleb isn’t allowed around death.
Perhaps the greatest loss that comes with the drone of our busy lives is that in losing silence, we’ve lost patience, and in losing patience we’ve become so inherently selfish that when we go to a funeral we forget that it’s not about us.
This blog has afforded me a number of privileges, the greatest of which has been the connections I’ve made with those in the blogging community who are grieving. Grieving hard.
Young woman who have lost their spouses. Suicides. One man whose wife was raped then murdered. Miscarriages. Then, there are the slow deaths from dementia / Alzheimer’s / cancer, and the limbo of wondering, “What is wrong?” as the dementia turns to anger, abuse and eventual death.
Tragedies. All. Darkness I’ve been privileged to feel.
Many have expressed that they’ve wrestled with the “why” that God doesn’t answer.
The “why” that expects a response. The “why” that pastors say will one day be answered in the next life, when our perspective is clearer and our hearts are closer to God. The “why” that some Christians claim is soothed by the soft, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. And others dismiss because they know with certainty that death was somehow “God’s will.”
Yet, for many believers, and nonbelievers, the answer to this why cannot hold out to the next life. For too many this “why” is answered, not by the soft, quiet voice of the Spirit, but by the darkness of silence.
A “why” that is only multiplied by silence. A “why” that grows into disbelief and continues to be solidified by the silence that started it.
The other week we held the funeral for a 50 year old that was killed in a motorcycle accident at our funeral home.
What made this particular situation more tragic wasn’t just the way he died, but the fact that he left his wife, young son and even his father behind.
As I was parking the family vehicles in the procession line, I spoke with the deceased’s mother-in-law for about 10 minutes.
She wanted to talk and I wanted to listen.
She explained to me that, as there were no witnesses to the accident, the theory is that he lost control of his cycle as a result of a deer jumping out in front of him, causing him to attempt an evasive maneuver and lose control of his cycle.
The mother-in-law explained that nobody knows for sure a deer caused him to lose control – as there were no witnesses — but given his superior riding ability, his familiarity with the specific road he was on, and the fact that there were skid marks at the place of his accident all seem to support the theory that he was lost control while attempting to avoid something … that something probably being a deer.
Unknown and unexplainable deaths can often lead to a grey and confusing grief. I’ve noticed that grief works its way through a person in a slightly healthier manner when it has some explanation, but when there isn’t an explanation … it just sits like a morning fog.
The forever question of “How did he die?” was answered not with a “real” answer, but with an answer that sufficed … that somehow made the grief that would otherwise be grey and confusing into something something slightly more healthy. It was an answer that we “imagined” from the best evidence we could supply. An answer from our own imaginations.
And I wonder how often the heavy “whys” of death and God aren’t just answered by our own imaginations. I wonder how often we simply speculate based on our knowledge that God is good, that death is bad, the man is somewhat free to mess up … that s*** happens. And after convincing ourselves numerous times over, we simply come to believe that our imagined answer is “the truth.”
The silence to the “why” is so maddening that we just fill it with answers of our own making.
And maybe it’s somehow healthy for us.
And then I wonder if the silence to our “why” might just be due to the fact that God has no answer. Maybe he’s not there at all. Or, maybe we’re asking a question that’s inspired by something that has no response.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the method through which they look at theology is called “apophatic theology”, which is contra Western style of theology in that it speaks silence towards God, who is, they say, in many ways, unspeakable. Cataphatic theology (the Western style), which is what almost all of us in America attempt to do, is the attempt to define God positively, which often involves definition and affirmation. In other words, our theology often involves many words, while their theology often invokes silence (thus their use of icons as means of meditation during silence).
Silence has been written out of the Western view of God.
Protestant and evangelicals not only like to speak about God, they also like to assert about God. Doubt it not a part of our paradigm; thus, when somebody begins to doubt aspects of Christianity, it’s looked down upon, whereas in some Christian traditions – especially Orthodox and in some cases Catholicism – doubt is an accepted form of worship.
Thus, Holy Saturday … the Holy Day where doubt and silence is the PROPER POSITION of worship.
In the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, Holy Saturday is the holy day between Good Friday and Easter. It’s a day when we attempt to understand what the disciples of Christ were feeling. A day when we put ourselves in their sandals.
A day when we try to understand, as the disciples had, the crucifixion WITHOUT the knowledge of the resurrection.
Chris Patton writes,
“It is a day full of question. What will become of his message? Was Jesus the messiah? How will life come from death? Does God really have the last word? Are the powers and principalities really in charge as their killing of Jesus seems to indicate? I can only try to imagine what the disciples were going through. This was not just a friend dying. The disciples’ view of the future, their hope for what was to come, a new way of life, all hinged on Jesus … maybe we should change the name from Holy Saturday to Doubting Saturday. I don’t think anything Holy was going on in the disciples’ mind. Fear, frustration, anger, depression – doubt must have been a hundred pound weight on their chest. (For a more expansive article on Holy Saturday, check out this link)
Holy Saturday is a day when the church belongs to the doubters. It’s a day when we as Western Christians should do two things we are very uncomfortable with: embrace doubt and silence.