A White and Fragrant Life
These last few days in May have been gentle and stretched long.
Golden light and thunder showers have invited the tender walnut leaves to unfurl,
the asparagus to bravely push shoots toward the sky,
and the rose bushes’ buds to swell pink and white.
The thought of roses leads me to remember . . . January.
January’s days fell in the deep darkness of winter, when the short hours of sunlight barely warmed the afternoons.
January was a time of wind-sculpted, white drifts that piled up high against snow fences and blockade driveways and sidewalks.
January was also a month of many funerals. A friend, who worked with Hospice, said the dying often rally for Thanksgiving and Christmas and then, exhausted by their battle, surrender to death in the weeks following the holidays.
This January I was privileged to attend the memorial services of two souls who were ostensibly very different but who shared core values.
Doris was born in the shadow of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars.
Bill was born in the guarded optimism of the years just after World War II.
Doris was raised on a truck farm in Texas.
Bill grew up in small town Iowa.
Doris served in Quaker (Friends) meetings in Texas and the Midwest.
Bill served in the Army and was stationed in Germany.
Doris waited to be married to Tom until her thirties.
Bill proposed to Debi three days after meeting her.
Doris attended a Friends Bible College on the Kansas plains.
Bill received his Bachelors, Masters, and Juris Doctor degrees in California, Maryland, and Iowa.
Doris was a homemaker, mother, and pastor’s wife. She loved her family.
Bill practiced law and loved his family.
Doris taught Sunday School, served on committees in Friends churches, and ministered to the elderly. She was also known for her ministry of prayer.
Bill served as permanent deacon in his Diocese and to the parishioners of his local Catholic Church. He was known for his service to and leadership in many organizations in his diocese, church, and community.
Doris’ funeral included a time for open worship, where anyone who felt led of the Spirit could share, as is practiced in Friends meetings for worship. The fragrance of roses was in the air.
Bill’s funeral was a Mass of Christian Burial, with the rites and liturgy of a Catholic Mass. The scent of incense was in the air.
Doris’ life and Bill’s life are gifts, and if you set aside for a moment the Catholic and Quaker wrappings, you’ll see that the core of their lives is remarkably similar. They loved and served their communities, their churches, their families, and their Lord. That’s how they wanted to be remembered. Bill specifically asked that
any celebration of my life should be limited to my life in God and not to any mortal success or achievement I may have had.
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The feathery flakes of the latest January snowstorm had yet to drift when I walked across the sidewalk, compressing the snow under my boots. The next day the bitter, northwest winds scoured the cement clean and revealed my footprints.
A long, knee or hip-high drift always forms between our house and the shed where the truck is parked. We needed the truck that day because the roads hadn’t been plowed yet. My husband walked through the drift first in his size 12 boots, which made it easier for me to follow behind, stepping in his footprints.
Quakers often used a series of questions (called queries) to prompt the hearer to reflect on their life and relationship with God. Here are a few queries for us all:
The winds of time will blow away much of my life–what will remain?
Do my footsteps lead to the forgiving Savior?
Are loving and serving God priorities in my life?
Have the footprints I’ve made while walking with Jesus made it easier for those on the path behind me?
When the time comes for my memorial service, how would I like to be remembered?
Nearly a century ago an English Anglican priest recorded the details of funeral preparations for one of his parishioners and commented on her life:
As I write these words the last home is being decorated with heather and moss to receive the body of one whom I shall bury to-morrow, the last of my old parishioners, one of God’s saints, who has lived a white and fragrant life, loving and serving God, bringing up a family in the same holy line of life, and closing her eyes in peace to pass into the Land of Promise, which here we cannot see, but in which we can believe, and to which we hope to attain.
Rev. Sabine Baring Gould
(January 28, 1834 –January 2, 1924)
This is how I would like to be remembered, as Doris and Bill are, as one “who has lived a white and fragrant life, loving and serving God.”
Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation–an aroma redolent with life.
2 Corinthians 2:15,16 MSG
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