The Landscape of Liturgy: The Work of the People During Death and Dying

This article was published by Duke Faith and Leadership on February 6th, 2018. I've added additional photographs for this blog post. 

Beset by grief at the imminent death of a beloved former pastor, a minister and her congregation let liturgy lead them amid death and dying.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2018

“Can you call me? I have some difficult news to share.”

It was a voicemail last March from my friend and former colleague Jeff Krehbiel. For 16 years, we had worked together at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) in Washington, D.C. Only a few weeks earlier, he had left for a beautiful new job in Chicago.

When I called Jeff back, his words punched me in the gut:

“I’ve been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. It’s spread to my liver.”

My head felt hot.

We talked for a few minutes about his tender spirit and how that would help him in the days to come. I adamantly assured Jeff that Pilgrims, though far away, would be with him as he faced his life-threatening illness.

But the truth was, once I hung up, I had no idea what to say or do. How exactly would Pilgrims be with Jeff in his dying? How would I lead? More urgently, what would I possibly say to the people who had known and loved him for so many years?

For 16 years, Jeff and I created liturgy together with the feisty folks at Pilgrims. In our liturgical work, we learned to tell biblical stories by heart. We created beautiful,boundary-pushing liturgies, rooted in biblical texts and our Reformed tradition.

Over the coming weeks, as all of us at Pilgrims wrestled with our grief, I let liturgy lead me and ultimately the congregation through truth telling amid death and dying.

Let me share with you how this worked and what we created liturgically in D.C. as Jeff was dying 700 miles away in Chicago.

MARCH 26, 2017, FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT, FIRST SUNDAY AFTER JEFF’S DIAGNOSIS

The lectionary gave us the story from the Gospel of John about the man who had been born blind.(link is external) I preached that Jesus affirmed the man’s belovedness with mud, water and a holy welcome. The crowd and the man’s parents, on the other hand, kept their distance.

Jeff, in a sacred act of hospitality, had welcomed us into his dying, I told the congregation. We would let Jeff’s transition to death mark us so we could birth God’s holy love at a time of dying.

That Sunday, we used our Lenten prayer stations as a way to respond to people living in their own uncertain and tender places -- refugees, those working to care for the planet and others.

As part of our communion prayers, we blessed a fleece blanket for Jeff, stretching it out and holding it within our prayer circles as people tearfully prayed for him. Ten-year-old Jamie Ernesto prayed for Jeff’s happiness, and when our prayers shifted to the suffering in the world, he prayed for the people suffering in Syria.

Blessing of Jeff's blanket. 

Blessing of Jeff's blanket. 

 

APRIL 9, 2017, PALM SUNDAY

As we have done for several years, Pilgrims started off our Palm Sunday liturgy with a New Orleans-style jazz funeral procession around our block, with members carrying eco-palms, decorated umbrellas, drums and cardboard signs proclaiming justice.

We had already sent Jeff’s purple blanket to Chicago, where he received it gratefully. Now we had three more blankets: one for Cheryl, Jeff’s spouse, and for each of his two daughters, Andrea and Kelsey. They, too, needed to be wrapped in Pilgrims’ love.

The three blankets became our cloaks as we carried them with us in our procession. During our communion liturgy, we placed the blankets at the foot of our 8-foot wooden cross, its base now covered with palms.

Pilgrim Diana Bruce carries one of our "cloaks" during our Palm Sunday procession. 

Pilgrim Diana Bruce carries one of our "cloaks" during our Palm Sunday procession. 

 

WEEK OF APRIL 17-21, CHICAGO

The week after Easter, I flew to Chicago to spend time with Jeff and his family.

On my third and final day with Jeff, the two of us went up to the 40th floor of his apartment building overlooking Lake Michigan and planned our final liturgy together -- his memorial service.

I took notes on my phone as we talked: “Let’s sing ‘Marching in the Light of God.’ Yes, let’s have communion and the story of the feeding of the 5,000.”

Later that morning, as we sat in the living room with Cheryl and Jeff’s sister, Sue, I realized that the time to say goodbye was fast approaching. Again, I fell back on liturgy.

First, we washed each other’s hands and shared communion. Then, I asked Jeff to tell the footwashing story. Despite his weakened condition, he sat up straight in his chair and told it by heart. In that moment, I recognized Jeff’s embodied gift to Pilgrims: storytelling.

We shared the bread, a baguette from lunch, and the cup, a Naked-brand berry drink that Jeff was having to boost his energy.

I took my Chicago story back to Pilgrims, and the following Sunday, April 23, I shared what I had experienced and witnessed.

APRIL 26, 2017, HEALING SERVICE

A few days later, on Wednesday, we had a healing service at Pilgrims.

We told the footwashing story and washed each other’s hands. We shared communion. We set up prayer stations throughout the sanctuary where people could sing, process and be together.

The next day, April 27, Jeff died.

MAY 6, 2017, CELEBRATION OF LIFE AND RESURRECTION

Nine days later, Jeff’s family and friends gathered for a service of life and resurrection. Because Pilgrims could not accommodate the anticipated crowd of more than 500, the service was held two miles away in the much larger sanctuary of D.C.’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. There, we sang “Marching in the Light of God,” shared communion and listened to Kelsey recount the feeding of the 5,000, carrying on her dad’s gift of storytelling.

MAY 7, 11 A.M. WORSHIP

The next day at Pilgrims, we honored Jeff’s life by weaving his spirit through our Sunday worship. We had flowers in the sanctuary from More Light Presbyterians, an organization working for the full participation of LGBTQ people within the PCUSA. We chanted Psalm 23,(link is external) heard Acts 2:42-47(link is external) and its description of the radical acts of sharing in the early church and sang “Here Comes the Sun” with a new appreciation.

We laid hands on Jeff’s siblings and his mom after they announced that they would be giving a handmade communion set to Pilgrims in his memory.

We shared communion together, all of us clumped around the table. At one point, a basket of bread got separated from the cup that was supposed to be accompanying it.

As Cheryl stood in the circle with a piece of bread and no cup in which to dip it, she looked right at me and smiled.

“Maybe we should get some of that Naked berry drink,” she said.

After communion, with drumming and our Pilgrims kids leading the way, we processed out to Pilgrims’ urban garden. Gathered together, we heard words from Cheryl, sang “What Does the Lord Require of Us” and watched Andrea “water” our garden with her dad’s ashes.

Coffee hour that day was in the garden. In honor of Jeff, we also offered wine and scotch, including the “peaty single malt” he favored so much it was mentioned in his obituary.(link is external)

Long before Jeff died, Pilgrims had become rooted in the “work of the people,” thanks in large part to his efforts. As we had learned over the years after other deaths -- and again after Jeff's -- liturgy had prepared us to trust that nothing in life and death can separate us from the buoyancy of God’s love.

 

Montreat Youth Conference Sermon #4 Breakfast on the Beach

Energizers with Eric Wall, Rodger Nishioka, Nathan Proctor and 1200 youth.
Energizers with Eric Wall, Rodger Nishioka, Nathan Proctor and 1200 youth.

In early June, I was the preacher for weeks 1 & 2 of Montreat High School Youth Conferences. Six hundred kids attended the first week and 1200 kids the second week. The theme was “Be the Difference” with a sub-theme each day. The theme for Thursday was “Be the Difference With Your Peers.” This sermon is from evening worship on Thursday, the fourth day of the conference.

My first sermon on the Call of Paul can be found here. My second sermon on the Young Man Born Blind can be found here.

My third sermon on Pentecost can be found here.

Liturgy for this service can be found here (scroll down for Thursday).

John 21:1-19

Jesus invites us into the risen life, a resurrected life.

This Jesus story in the Gospel of John invites us into a story when everything feels like it’s over, and something entirely new begins again.

When has that been for you?

When something felt like it was over and something entirely new begins again?

Our breakfast on the beach story takes us to death and resurrection, that the resurrection of Jesus means God is always doing a new thing.

God is always with us, God is always around to show us beauty in the present moment, God is always there to show us love in one another and in the neighbors and companions God has given us.

This story today is about death and resurrection, it’s about faithful dying and discovering resurrection, or new life, is always around us.

This is my faithful dying and resurrection story.

My dad died almost four years ago.

My dad had been living with Parkinson’s for about a year. Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that affects movement, slowly, over time.

Parkinson’s is similar to Alzheimer’s in that it creates a very, very long goodbye.

My dad had also been living with arthritis in his spine which made it painful for him to walk.

In moments when humor was needed with our dad’s physical struggles, my twin brother, John, along with our older sister, Paige, would describe our dad’s body as “a hot mess.”

I got the phone call from John, my twin, on a Sunday afternoon.

Dad fell in the backyard. He had a massive heart attack. The paramedics revived him, he’s at the hospital, he hasn’t woken up.

I flew to Columbus early the next morning to be with my mom, Paige and John.

Our dad was in a hospital bed with lots of machines and tubes that went beep over and over again. He was on a ventilator, unable to breath on his own. He could open his eyes, he could hear. But we weren’t sure what he was hearing or seeing.

He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move. His fall had left him paralyzed.

Within 24 hours it became clear to us that we needed to take my dad off the ventilator.

Our dad was always clear about his wishes for the end of his life—he had it in writing, he had told us verbally what we wanted.

My dad’s hospital room turned into a steady stream of friends and colleagues coming to say goodbye.

I was so taken, so thankful for their courage to come to his bedside, stand next to his dying body, grab his hand, touching the last of him.

My dad’s body wasn’t serving him anymore after his heart attack.

He couldn’t breathe on his own.

His body was paralyzed from the fall, and he had Parkinson’s. My dad’s body wasn’t serving him, his body unable to stay alive without machines.

We needed to let our dad die.

And that’s what we did.

Grief is hard, it’s very hard work. It’s hard emotions.

My 14 year old son, Sam, I mentioned last night, who said it’s easier to look away has told me before that he doesn’t like feelings, his feelings make him feel uncomfortable.

In my grieving, at one point, I told my spouse, Bob, I felt like I spent my days wanting to punch people in the face.

People would ask me simple questions and I would just look at them like “seriously, you have a question about the church database? My dad just died. Back off.”

Bob reminded me that I wasn’t walking around punching people.

My thoughts hadn’t become actions. Yet I knew I was suffering, and I needed some change.

My mind would go back to my dad’s hospital room, picturing his body all hooked up to those machines that went beep, remembering how his body wasn’t serving him anymore.

A question finally came to me “what isn’t serving me anymore?

What in me, in my life isn’t serving me anymore?

What did I need to let go of? What did I need to release? What did I need to die to in order that I could rise, I experience newness?

What did I need I need to die to in my life in order that I could experience a more authentic me?

What did I need to die to, let go of in order that I could love more, share more love?

What did I need to die to in order that I could be transformed, I could be made new, create a new beginning, participate in a risen life now, a resurrected life where I let go of fear and live more boldy for the sake of Jesus.

Let me be very clear about how I am using the words “What I need to die to.” I didn’t think I needed to physically die in order to be experience the risen life.

By using the words “what do I need to die to” I’m not taking about physically dying.

Jesus wants me to live just as Jesus wants you to live. Jesus wants to meet me in this life just as Jesus wants to meet you in his life. Jesus wants me and you alive on right now, right here

There have also been some of us who have been told “I wish the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender part of you would die.” Or “I wish your struggle with gender identity would die” or “I wish your skin that’s black and brown would die.”

This is exactly what happened in Orlando—a man wanted people to die because they were LGBT folks with black and brown skin. That’s not what I’m talking about when I say “what did I need to die to.”

Those things are of our essence, those things are part of our being made in the image of God.

Before my dad died, I had already done some death and dying.

When I was in Atlanta I had to let go of, die to the future I had envisioned for myself.

I had to die to the ways I thought about what it meant to be successful. I had to die to the ways of thinking I had to have all the answers and be perfect.

The Apostle Paul had to die to how he was living in the ways of the Roman establishment. Paul died to the ways of violence in order that he could rise, be made new in God’s love.

The young man born blind at birth had to die to the reality he wasn’t blind anymore, he had a new identity of follower of Jesus.

The crowd around the young man had to die to the young man’s old identity, rise to his new identity. The same with the young man’s parents.

The football team from Olivet, MI from the video this morning in keynote….had to die to what it meant to be a football team.

They had to die to what it meant to score a touchdown.

Justice Miller, the wide receiver died to his own ways of being himself—he said that before that series of plays on the field, he was concerned about himself.  After that, he wanted to make everyone’s day.

What in your life do you need to die to? What in your life is keeping you from loving, from caring for those around you? What needs released?

Maybe it’s you thinking your love doesn’t matter to someone else, that you don’t matter to other people.

Maybe it’s thinking you matter too much, your sense of entitlement needs to die.

Maybe what’s needs to die is the thinking you have nothing to offer yourself, your friends, those around you.

Maybe what needs to die, needs to be released is you think you will look uncool for loving the world.

Maybe what needs to die is the image of yourself, how you look and dress because your image preserves your ego, your sense of self. A lot of times we focus on our image, how we look in order to wall ourselves off from the fear that we’ll be rejected.

Expectations? Priorities? Fear? Anxiety?

Internal voice that tells you to look and be like everyone else. Maybe self-hatred needs to die because you don’t feel you are worthy of God’s love?

Almost on a daily basis, I have a conversation with my internal voice, my inner critic that tells me to stop.

My inner critic tells me that idea I have for worship might make me a target for conflict, I’m not that creative….remember that idea of being a doctor or a lawyer might voice might say……maybe I should have done that instead. You’d probably be better at it.

I know that the dying I have done in the past few year,  the letting go of things that aren’t serving me  like letting my inner critic drive my choices, is connected to my dad’s death.  Silencing my inner critic are moments of resurrection for me.

There are parts of us that we need to die to, die to thoughts, ideas, choices, beliefs that aren’t serving us anymore.

We die to those ways in order to create new ways to serve in love.

Why is this dying so important? Why do we need to let go of these parts of ourselves?

Our breakfast on the beach story is about Jesus’ resurrection, and it’s about Jesus death.

You can’t get to Jesus resurrection without claiming the horrific way he died.

God is pushing us to walk right into this story that is about Jesus’ death and dying because God wants so much to include us in God’s resurrection. We can’t get to new life, new beginnings without the experience of some type of dying and God wants nothing more for us than to be resurrected.

After Jesus’ died, as Rodger mentioned this morning, the disciples went back to what they knew—fishing.

Jesus asks for fish—the disciples initially had none. Jesus gives them a bit of instruction because the disciples were fishing on the wrong side of the boat.

This was Jesus way of saying, “ok, when God says to do a new thing, God means a new thing so get on the other side of the boat.”

Once they catch a net full of fish, Jesus immediately invites them to come, have breakfast.

There was a charcoal fire with fish and bread—a really beautiful image.

With the sun rising, Jesus tends to a fire to make a breakfast of fish and bread.

As the disciples are learning to fish again, fishing from the other side of the boat, as Peter is naked, putting his clothes on, jumping off the boat, as the disciples are learning to see Jesus, see him as the resurrected one, as all of this change is going on….

Jesus invited them into a moment of nourishment, of community.

The meal of fish and bread has Jesus was teaching the disciples, yet again, how to be companions, friends with each other.

As I shared in last nights sermon, “companionship” means “with friends” or “with bread”  in Latin.

This is how we are the difference with our peers, our companions, our church members, we stop, we sit down, we share a meal to tend to the ties that bind us. We take care of each other with a meal and conversation.

Considering change is part of who we are, how we are made up as humans and as people of God’s way, nourishing, feeding, caring for each other is crucial.

We need to die to, release, let go of the ways we skip over listening, looking, and feelings the emotions of who and what is around us.

When we skip over moments to be tender and loving and kind, we miss turning towards love.

We need to die to the ways that keep us from realizing Jesus is in front of us and the ways Jesus call us to be companions with each other.

As a Church we can get consumed by keeping the church alive. We can obsess over how many new people members we get in a year, how many are in a youth groups, are we entertaining you all enough.

We can spend all our time on agendas that stay focused on the building and budgets and making sure worship and the choir sounds perfect.

But really…that’s not our work as the Church.

Our work is death and resurrection, dying and rising.

As the Church we are called to practice loving and being loved.

And we need to die to the ways that keep us from loving and being loved.

Montreat—Churches love nostalgia. Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Maybe you’ve heard things like “oh, years ago we used to do this” or “remember when we used to do that….that’s when people loved coming to church.” Or when suggests a new idea, a change in worship and someone says “oh, we can’t change that, that’s not how we do things.”

Jesus death and resurrection tell us that dying and rising is the least comforting way to new life.

Death doesn’t take us to the point where we can finally feel in control of our lives.

It actually does the opposite.

Both death and resurrection toss out the familiar, our comfortable hopes, and re-fashions a future, unhinges us from the past that we cling to.

The disciples went back to fishing on one side of the boat.

Jesus said, “it’s a new day, a new time, time to fish on the other side.”

This is why Montreat the Pentecost story has you all as the ones to dream and envision a world made new.

The way you make a difference as peers is when your church peers stays stuck in the past, consumed with doing the ways of yesteryear over and over again,

Your work is to disrupt those ways, your work, your visioning and dreaming means asking your church why do we do what we do, what we are doing and is what we are doing practicing loving and being loved?

One Sunday at Church of the Pilgrims, my son, Sam, and I were looking for something to eat in the church’s refrigerator.

As we rummaged around the refrigerator, Sam pulled out a thing of guacamole and read the expiration date. Sam said, “Mom, the expiration date on this is 2007.”

After I almost barfed in my mouth, Sam said, “wow, I was 6 years old when this guacamole expired. Then Sam said…. I wonder what I was doing when I was six years old….

Ok, so when your 14 year old starts to get all nostalgic about expired food in the refrigerator….the church refrigerator might just need to die.

We can fear the future of our churches, it can be very hard to let go of the past.

Sam tossed the 2007 guacamole into the trashcan. In an incredibly simple physical act, Sam showed what is needed in so many of our churches—that we need to die to some things, let things go in orderto make room for something new that is needed now….and what’s needed now and always is to live in the ways of God’s love.

Montreat:

Once again, this is why the Pentecost story calls you, the youth, to envision and dream.

Because the adults in the Church are clinging to 9 year old guacamole, clinging to the past, fearful of change and what change might bring.

Sometimes children, youth are more courageous than parents, adults.

Sam’s the one who tossed out the guacamole. He didn’t ask permission. He said this is gross. Tossed it. Done. Finished.

Goodbye guacamole from 2007—you aren’t serving us anymore.

What need to die in order for new life, for us to experience and witness the resurrection?

I asked that question to Pilgrims Session, our governing body, this past March.

So, what here at Pilgrims needs to die in order  to create space for love and compassion to rise up, come alive in us?

Rob Nelb, who is an elder on Session, immediately raised his hand and said,

“I think we need to move coffee hour that we have after worship from the community room down the hall to the sanctuary.”

Rob had noticed that few people were going into our community room down the hallway from the sanctuary after worship, people were staying in the sanctuary. Rob said let’s have coffee hour in the back of the sanctuary after worship.

Rob said, we have all these beautiful and creative and vulnerable experiences in worship—we need to stay in the sanctuary, drink punch, eat salty snacks, and be together in this space that has given us so much life.

Two weeks later coffee hour was in the back of the sanctuary.

And we are much more of a community.

Pilgrims died to a 30 year old way of doing coffee hour for the sake of love, for the sake of strengthening and nourishing relationships at Church of the Pilgrims.

This was Rob being Jesus like, saying we are fishing on this side of the boat with coffee hour in the community room, while everyone is on the other side of the boat in the sanctuary.

And now after worship, with coffee hour on a couple of tables behind the last set of pews, we savor our worship experience and we savor the relationships that have been created and been made new during worship.

What has to die in your church in order for more love to happen?

Something has to die in order for love to happen, there has to be a death in order for love to rise up, come alive, be resurrected.

That’s the story God so lovingly wants for us.

We are called to die to those ways that push us to obsess over things as a Church like longevity and security, significance and being the most popular church on the block.

Remember that Jesus went from having a few thousand in feeding of the 5,000 to a handful of followers to Maundy Thursday when he gathered to share the bread and the cup to Good Friday when he was put to death with 2 others and a handful of people, mostly women, looked on.

Jesus—not exactly the cool kid on the block.

We are called to die to ways that keep us from loving and being loved in order to live into God’s resurrection because God wants nothing more for us than to include us in God’s story of death and resurrection.

The hard part about the work of love is that our part is the dying part. The resurrection is God’s work.

When we moved coffee hour into the sanctuary we didn’t know how it was going to go.

When the Apostle Paul was transformed, the young man healed, the Pentecost community disrupted by the Holy Spirit….something came to an end.

Something died in order that Paul could live in the ways of love, in order that the young man could be part of a new community, in order that the Pentecost church could come alive after the death of Jesus.

My dad’s death called me to ask “what isn’t serving me anymore” and now I’m preaching at Montreat.

Almost two years ago, Mary Goodnight Thomas, one of our co-directors, sent me the email asking me to be the preacher here at Montreat.

First I almost deleted the email because I thought it was a pitch to come to church camp and why would I want to do that?

I called Mary and said “you know I preach to about 80 people on a Sunday.”

Yes, we know said Mary.

You know we have a rainbow flag over our sanctuary doors that says “All Are Welcome.” Yes, we know that.

You know we’ve been ordaining elders who are lgbtq and doing marriage equality before all of that was legal right? Yep, we know.

You know I’m UCC not PCUSA. Yep, know that too.

Ok, let me talk to my spouse Bob and run this by him, thinking oh Bob will shut this down. Who wants to parent three kids solo for 2 weeks?

I tell Bob and he says, “wow that sounds like a great opportunity, you should really do this.”

At that point, the only thing stopping me from saying yes to this was my own fear and anxiety. So I died to that and here I am with you.

We are here to nourish and love, serve and feed, care for each other.

Montreat you can be a difference for your peers, your Jesus companions by trusting that God is doing something new with you, God is doing something new with your peers, your neighbors. You can make a difference by being about love, the dying kind of love.

The kind of love when we step back, take a breath, and we can say, something is dying here and my God it’s still beautiful.

Urban Farming: Creating An All Saints Day Memorial Garden

A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.
A pansy and a rock are now part of our garden at Pilgrims.

All Saints Day is the Sunday in the Christian calendar to remember, celebrate, and  honor those saints who have gone before us, who create the great "cloud of witnesses."

Saints are not the model of Christian and human perfection.

Saints are those flawed, broken people (everyone) who God used to do holy things (all the things).

All Saints is the liturgical reminder that nothing, neither life nor death, can separate us from each other and from God.

Church of the Pilgrims has an All Saint's Day service that includes the lighting of candles and sharing the names of those who have died, particularly in the last year.

This year at Pilgrims we set the invitation to invite folks to come forward and light a candle, possibly saying the same and something about the person they are lighting the candle for. This happens in replace of a sermon.

At the end of the service this year, we created a memorial garden in our urban garden. This was inspired by many things, including a ritual that took place outside of worship a few weeks prior for a woman whose lost a baby from a miscarriage. As part of the ritual, we planted an azalea in the garden as an act of remembrance.

Creating this memorial garden was surprising simple. I asked several folks who had experienced loss in the past year to help out----buying pansies (which thrive in the cold), rocks and helping with the liturgy. Andy, our young adult volunteer, prepped the garden by loosening up the soil.

After communion, as we were gathered around the table, these words were spoken:

We have remembered the communion of saints through song and prayer, Word and sacrament. Now we remember by creating beauty in our garden.

 

 Together, following the sound of Rachel’s drumming, we will gather up these pretty pansies, the rocks, and walk to the garden. There we will create a memorial garden for our cloud of witnesses by planting the flowers and writing on the rocks names of those who have died.

 

 In the planting and in the writing of names we will create a space where love and relationships and memories are planted. It will be a place where we can visit and remember.

 

 The plants and rocks won’t last forever. But neither do we. Hopefully those we remember with the rocks and the plants, in this creation of a memorial garden, will feel a bit closer to us.

 

 As Rachel starts to drum, follow her. Rachel’s drum will sound like heartbeat, reminding us those who have died are still close to us.

 

For those who need a shorter distance to walk with no steps to climb, follow Andy.

Help take the flowers and rocks and markers out to the garden.

 

Let us go, plant, and remember.

Then we walked back to the garden with the beat of a drum.

Once we gathered in the garden, these words were spoken:

From ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and soil to soil. As we plant our flowers and write names on the rocks, we honor the lives of the dead. We honor they are now our ancestors, our communion of saints, a community of deep time.

 

As we plant and name, their spirits become imprinted upon our garden and linked to this land and Church of the Pilgrims.

 

While the mystery of death remains hidden from us, the living, we can be aware of death in our lives and how death can drive the beauty of this garden. 

 

We can still be guided and cared for by our invisible community of the dead, made visible in these flowers and rocks.  It is they who can remind us of the sacred responsibility we have as the living to protect and care for all of Creation—the home of the living and the dead. We can remember, as we plant the flowers in the soil and place the rocks, that life doesn’t disappear; it just changes shape and form.

 

If you don’t have a plant to plant for someone or the name of anyone to write on a rock, help someone else plant their plant. Help them place the rock gently on the soil after they’ve written a name.

 

 Let us show each other we aren’t alone in our remembering.

Let us plant and name. Let us remember.  

Rocks and Pansies
Rocks and Pansies

And with those words, we planted and wrote names on rocks. It took about 10 minutes. Some were silent. Some talked. Some hugged. Some helped others plant. Some just witnessed.

You don't need an outdoor garden to create a memorial garden. You don't need an architect or a master design plan.

You could plant in pots or various containers. Plants could be for indoor or outdoors. You could just use rocks.

To create a memorial garden you will need: Your body. Your tenderness. Your intentionality. Your body as memory maker. Your love. The living. The dead.