August 11, 2021 - Dust to Dust

"For dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:10b).

I've been thinking about death lately. Not my own but the recent homegoing of family members - two cousins in the same family and an aunt on my side of the family and on Deb's. Brother and sister were cremated and lie in separate decorative boxes next to each other.
I was asked to officiate for the sister. What an honor. But I haven't seen her in almost 40 years. I just remember that she was quiet, seldom smiled, and had really long hair. It's the distinguishing phrase, "I knew of her" rather than "I knew her." Hard words to say about one's own extended family but...such is the transitional life we all lead willingly or unwillingly.

I haven't been home in twenty years so those words would apply to me as well. They all knew of "Danny" but very few know the Reverend Doctor Daniel Lute. Seeds scatter and new lives grow in other gardens.

I recently read an article of a woman whose husband was a potter. All his life he would talk about the work that fire does in bringing to "life" the dull and vulnerable clay. Fire hardens and beautifies.

She thought about that as she held her husband's decorative box of ashes. It was all of him -ashes and bits of bones - even the wedding ring on his left had was reduced to its basic components. It was all of him but yet, none of him. His laugh wasn't in this box. His frustrations or joys or celebrations or defeats were not in this box. His love was not in this box. Somehow it was all of him but none of him. Where was the beauty in this?

I thought about this with cousin Pam and cousin Tom and soon to be Aunt Suzanne and Aunt Cheryl. Somehow it is all of Pam, but really none of her. Somehow it was Tom but really none of him. Somehow the body laying before us is Aunt Suzanne or Cheryl, but really none of her - just the shell that housed who she really was.

I'm not saying that the body is not important. I have a graveside service for a reason. It was the body that we hugged, that we kissed, the hand that we held, the eyes that we peered into, the vessel we recognized in the restaurant or walking through the county fair midway. The body is important and so much so that God will raise it up at the end of days. But it is the soul, the spirit, that brings flesh and bones to life.

Where is the beauty in this?

Perhaps it is in the sense that you can bury the body but you'll never be able to separate the memories of the immaterial. I find this in celebration of life moments when family members laugh at something the person would always say or do. Old Christmas or vacation memories. Moments in the relational library that can be pulled up when prompted. The tangible, yellow Polaroids, where everyone wore the same sweater vests with striped 1960's pants, and white belts. Maybe memories are not so great.

As I put my reading glasses on to see those old photos, to read the dated articles, I was reminded that the most important element of the day was not that which was housed in the box but in my memories. Perhaps this is the beauty that was intended.

"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We commit this body to the grave and the spirit to God from which it came."