2013 29 July

The Gift of Ritual – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

“Interment” is such an awkward word. It nearly always needs to be interpreted, as in, “Last week we interred my mother’s ashes.” We placed her ashes into the earth, blessed her memory, and gave thanks to God. We poured the ashes into the hole in the Memorial Garden at St. Andrew’s-Wesley, at the corner of Burrard and Nelson, in the heart of Vancouver, the city she loved. We read a few entries from her journals; and then from the Psalms, “I lift up mine eyes unto the hills – from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We shared a couple of verses from the hymn sung at her funeral, also ather mother’s funeral.

The king of Love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
and he is mine forever.

It was a short service, as always; maybe ten, fifteen minutes.

Which was perhaps a good thing, because her great grandchildren were present; ages one, four, six, and eight; filled with an unpredictable combination of sadness, solemnity, and the irrepressible bounce of a kid in a garden.

Only one side of the family was there. After the funeral service, my brother had taken some ashes to plant in his garden, beside his home in Peterborough amidst the peony bushes, offshoots taken from our mother’s garden; indeed, peonies that had come from her mother’s garden – sweet-smelling peonies from “before,” before scent was sacrificed, as with roses, for perfect blooms.

So, me and Tim, three granddaughters, one son-in-law, and four great grandchildren were present. After the service in the Memorial Garden we were gathering down at Second Beach for a picnic, to honour my mother’s memory, yes; but also to celebrate our daughter Emily’s birthday from the previous week; and our grandson Ben’s birthday just a couple of days earlier (who turned four!).

Which meant that I spent the first half of the day cooking for the family picnic feast – broiled chicken; potato salad and pasta salad; devilled eggs, chips and pickles. I felt as if I were channelling my mother all day long. Which was a gift, especially when I got inspired.

You see, when I was a young boy, my mother discovered a recipe for an “elephant cake.” It was such a success at its first appearance, that it became a command birthday tradition, one that I had carried on with my own three girls. An elephant with pink icing. Always pink. Don’t ask me how that part of the tradition began; the only one who could answer that question is gone. (One of many questions, I’m discovering these days, that will go unanswered.) So, a pink elephant birthday cake for my grandson. I had to go out and buy cake pans, it had been such a long time between cakes.


So why do I share all of this with you? Well, for several reasons.

One, to celebrate the gift of ritual that holds us in hard moments. Rituals connect us with each other, with family, with whoever has gathered; and then, with a much larger community and tradition, reminding us that humans have been doing this since the beginning of consciousness. And also, rituals connect us with God, the Mystery that embraces the universe and each one of us, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Also, to offer up a reminder that death (and thus change) is a given; is inevitable. And it always includes loss, no matter how well “the head” understands what is happening. And yet, it also includes the gift of new life, which, if you look in the right direction, is already appearing, demanding to be heard.

Easy to affirm, with spouse, daughters, and grandkids all around; harder to celebrate when loss is big and very present, while new life is sometimes a matter of faith, of trust.

I need reminders that this cycle is equally inevitable for churches, for our church, the United Church. Change is here, it’s happening. And some of those changes include death; and some, new life.

We need to name and recognize the loss. With conversations, tears, and rituals.

AND, we need to figure out how to stay connected with the next generations, sharing wisdom and learning new ways. We need to look for life in unexpected places, expressed in ways that are different and younger. We need to discover how to offer support, wisdom, and excitement.

AND, we need to keep eating together – potlucks, conversations, intimate moments; a welcoming table, where there is always room for a last minute guest, a stranger; a celebration of communion.

Which is what our family did, picnicking at Second Beach; we ate together, just as my mother would have had it. Remembering her; eating; getting on with it. And then after, we played on the swings; we swam in the sea; we went home tired and happy. And me, still a little sad.