The other weekend, I attended a funeral of a man who was a very dear father, husband, and friend to many. Everyone who knew him respected him as a man who was wise, gentle, kind, and led his family with loving leadership. As I followed the funeral procession for this godly man, my heart was touched by the tradition of allowing a funeral procession to pass while traffic waits. I thought it was special to see the respectful acknowledgment that society gives to the ending of an earthly life. It was a silent homage. The internment was also respectful quietness, except for a short but nice “message.”
As I drove through the cemetery, I beheld the beauty. Barren branches hung above brown grass of winter. Shadows stretched from stately tombstones. Clouds blew overhead. Nearby, life moved along. People went about their day, shopping, eating, playing, working… Here, in the cemetery, I was one of the few who had not driven away yet, contemplating the stillness.
This earthly life of mine too shall end. Transient. Evanescent. I paused. Saw beauty even here at a cemetery. Felt the sun’s warmth, as its rays broke through the clouds. Eyes looked up, following rays. Pondered that this life isn’t my final destination. The season was winter, and the grass was brown. The trees were barren. Yet, unseen to the naked eye were stirrings of life beneath the hard soil. Spring is coming, and with it will be new life.
The body of a godly man had entered a season of “rest”. Yet, for such a Christian man, death is only the passageway from this earthly life to a fuller Heavenly life. Here, we think we know life. We breathe air, and it is life. We touch the velvet petal of a flower, and there is life. We hear the trickling of rain on the roof, and there is life. We smell the pungent odor of wet soil, and there is life. We taste the tangy nectar of a Clementine, and there is life. We see life here. Yet, what we see here, what we experience is perhaps more a shadow. C.S. Lewis once called this the “Shadowlands”. I am inclined to believe he was quite right in his analysis.
One of my favorite books, One Thousand Gifts, says the following: “All beauty is only reflection. And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see it’s Him and not the thing? Satan came in the scales that gleamed, a thing of beauty, and he lured the first woman and she was deceived. Beauty, the disguise, can slide dangerous. True, authentic Beauty requires of us, lays claim to us, and it is this, the knees bent, the body offered in obedience. …Do I have eyes to see His face in all things so I’m not merely dazzled by the trinket, glitzy bauble dangling for the ogling, till it flakes and breaks and I strain for more to lie prostrate before?” The book says in just a few pages before, “How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts. I want to see God, who pulls on the coat of my skin and doesn’t leave me alone in this withering body of mortality…” And again, “What is this that I feel sitting here, coursing through me relentless, hot, ardent? I have to see God beauty. Because isn’t my internal circuitry wired to see out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down before something else .. nature is not God but God revealing the weight of Himself, all His glory, through the looking glass of nature. .. How we behold determines if we hold joy. Behold glory and be held by God. How we look determines how we live … if we live … Faith is in the gaze of the soul. Faith is the seeing soul’s eyes upon a saving God … Faith is the seeing of eyes that find the gauze to heaven torn through; that slow to witness the silent weight, feel the gold glory bar heavy in palm…” Still more, “The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God.” Pages before: “Dusk and all the arching dome and the field and the great-bellied moon, it all heaves, heavy with the glory. I heave to breathe: The whole earth is full of His glory. Sky, land, and sea, heavy and saturated with God.”
Perhaps, this explains more the connection between the “shadows” and the reality: “Isn’t this the crux of the gospel? The good news that all those living in the land of the shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun. That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart — and mourning and dancing are movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty. Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son? …Jesus, at the Last Supper, showed us to transfigure all things — take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into a joy that fulfills all emptiness. … All is grace only because all can transfigure.” Another quote from the same source, “Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life … It is dark suffering’s umbilical cord that alone can untether new life.”
I have left the cemetery with its reminders of death and life. I write upon another page of my own life. Fingers still. Thoughts quiet. I ponder. I worship before the Creator of Life.