Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In my youth, before I lost any of my senses, I can remember that I was all alive.”
From the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, a time for everything under heaven … a time to live and a time to die …”
We judge an experience not simply by the duration of it, but by the intensity of it. Young people, especially, can pack a whole of living into a single hour, or day. When I spend time at one of my favourite places, the beach, I often notice children at play. Every object they find is picked up and examined closely. Even the most ordinary object, which many of us older folks wouldn’t even notice, becomes an object of wonder to them, and gets their undivided attention. I marvel at their concentration, their focused dedication to their tasks. For them time has ceased to exist.
We gather on the beach today to remember one who enjoyed this place very much. We are invited by those who have throughout history lived very close to the land, to feel the earth, to be grounded in this moment, to be in touch with ourselves, one another and the earth upon which we stand. This is indeed the time and the place to be today. In a Christian prayer we recite every week before the Holy Meal, we affirm this grounding in God wherever and whenever we are: “It is indeed right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to God …”
For those who knew her well, I am certain you can remember times in her life when she lived fully, when she was “all alive”, and grounded in the moments of her life. And in this way she, even because of her death, will continue to teach us the value of living for each day given to us. So that life is not merely about getting to the next stage, or achieving the higher goal, or acquiring the next, best thing. Because when life is reduced to the rat race that only serves to pull us away from the present moment and one another, that divides our attention and blinds our sight to that which is — we no longer live.
Death has, in a sense, separated us from our loved one. But the separation is not complete. That separation which we grieve today is not unlike the separation between this shoreline and those banks across the river. What unites that shore-line with this one? The water, of course. “What can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?” asks Saint Paul of the New Testament. Nothing can. In the love of God, in the waters of life and love, we are all connected — forever.
Kahlil Gibran is often quoted at ceremonies affirming the love between people. We often focus on the union, the inseparateness between those that love each other dearly. But a theme that runs through his poetry and wisdom is a prayer: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” Those spaces are important to honour and respect. “Love one another,” he continues, but let that love be more like “a moving sea between the shores of your souls … For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.”
The water will always run between the shores of our souls, between us and those we have lost. In Christian love and faith, nevertheless, we remain united with our loved one even in death. The love of God keeps our spirits united, our memories of her solid in our hearts.
God is not removed from this time and this place. God is not removed from our suffering just as God is not removed from our joy and thanksgiving. God is not “out there”, but rather — in the words of theologian Paul Tillich — God is the very “ground of our being”. God is here and we can experience the fullness of God in the things we do and in the people we meet in this time and in this place. Today. Now. Thanks be to God.