Here ends the lesson

Leroy HuizengaUncategorizedLeave a Comment

[NB: The homily preached at Brett’s funeral 11-14-2015, Pierce Chapel, Wheaton College. The first reading was from the Book of Wisdom, the Anglican response to which, as it is deuterocanon, involves not “the word of the Lord/thanks be to God” but simply “Here ends the lesson” and silence.]

Here ends the Lesson.

No response is made.

The reading starts in proclamation, and ends in a whimper: a whisper of silence. The Word of the Lord?

Not quite. Yet something more than the word of man? We’re not quite sure; yet there, in the words of men and women, God breathes, too: in the lives that we live out, strutting our hour upon the stage, largely improvising.

And at our end? That same silence.

Has God spoken through us? Used us? We were bought at a price, you know: our lives are not our own.

Were any of our words His: even in the warp and weft of ordinary life? Did anything extraordinary transform it? was the natural made supernatural; did poetry suffuse our prose?

Always, after the life is celebrated, the silence sets in again.

Are our lives, indeed, then, works of art. That to be complete, must be full, fourscore years and ten. Four movements, with maybe a final coda: some good deeds; some wise words; a benevolent demeanor.

As Rahner said, in this life there are no finished symphonies.

But God is in the details of life, as well as the Master Narrative. And wherever that story takes us, from journeyman to master, things take time That’s why we say the devil is in the details. And all haste is of the devil: Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est.

That is because it takes time to sweat the details and make the difference between adequacy and excellence; between mediocrity and genius; between avocation, and a career.

God is in the details, and when we are in haste, when time is pressing on or running out, and we run out of steam, or fall by the wayside, the devil can so often step in to finish the race.

This is all about time. And the race for time. Never enough time: to do it right: to finish the race.

But as the cold grey light of the final Day dawns, we offer what we have in hand, in the end. For time and tide waits for no one.

God is in the details. And the God we see in Christ, the One Who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, is also the God who is not the prisoner of his own majesty: rather the God Who wrapped Himself in flesh and blood and set the limits of a human lifespan to demarcate His Time with us: this God knows what we forget: that the Way is trod one step at a time; over and over; until the end of the road; truth is found one question at a time; until that last unanswered question; life is lived, one breath at a time.

Until our last breath.

Brett ran out of time. He had so much to say: so much to hear: so much to write: so much to read. So much more.

So much; and yet so much more.

That was Brett. And he was surely just getting to the prime meridian of life, when the sun is high in the sky. The zenith. Then, a year ago, came that first shadow, that chill in the breeze that once was the first fresh sign of spring: now segues to winter again. No summer; no gold autumnal glow. No Four Last Songs; no final sonnets.

No finished symphonies.

His way was blocked: his truth was silenced: his life was over: at least in this: no more words to sound from that silence.

And more and more in that last year the rhythm of life became the rhythm of keeping life going, more and more: not desperate measures, but a life punctuated by the steady drip drip of measured doses of toxins, regular visits to specialists, clinics, care centers. A life whose through line, whose flow, whose undercurrent, was quiet desperation.

Those of us who were privileged to see that were profoundly shaken. The sunny side of Brett, hail fellow well met, had so overpowered and disarmed those of us whose pale dispositions craved that dose of Vitamin E; that energy; the way that he had of making you feel and know that you were the only other person in the world when you were with him. The way he had, not just of blessing you but – and here’s the thing – of making you feel like you were blessing him. How many times did he utter “you have blessed me”, even when you knew, in the next moment, you couldn’t have done it. Imputation, we call it: the word is spoken, and it is done. God seeks, not just the lovely, the extraordinary, the strong and the brave to love: His love, rather, as Luther knew, is creative: it speaks a thing into being, and it makes to be things that are not. He says “it is good”; and it is.

Imputation. The active side of grace. This was Brett’s raison d’être, the grace side of God that Brett knew and trusted. You say it; and it is. Words can do that; if they are inspired; if they are God’s words. Brett poured himself out, in his words: he poured himself out, on us all: hepoured out his life on me, wasted it misspent it: profligate. But not just me.

And Brett knew that God was breathing His Life into this whole world, he knew it to hear it, and heard it often, where all we heard was noise.

One place we both heard the music was in the poems of George Herbert:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:

Such a Way, as gives us breath:

Such a Truth, as ends all strife:

Such a Life, as killeth death.

Exasperated as he was by those who were not choosing to act in way that met his expectations, his standards, Brett was not a man who joyed in strife. He joyed in Love. And the source of his love was a Joy; joy in his family, his friends, even in those who did not go out of their way to do him good.

Of him, we may say, surely,that God proved him and found him worthy for himself. Come, he is saying, even now, come into My Presence, good and faithful servant: well done!; enter Thou into the joy of thy Lord.

And such as be faithful in love shall abide with him.

Here ends the Lesson.

No response is made.

No finished symphonies.

But an end has been made in words we have already heard: not my words not Brett’s words even but words ready made for this occasion,

Words for the Belovéd [Scott Cairns]

And it seems you’ve only just awakened, but you turn

and there we are, the rest of us, arriving just behind you.

We’ll go the rest of the way together.

Da capo al fine: unfinished, yes: not just because “here the composer laid down his pen for the last time”. But because now, when we take up our fiddles, the song goes on endlessly, in endless variations and permutations, numberless sources of delight. A Harmony of Invention awaits us, as we discover and rediscover–with all the time in the world–the wonders of this world, renewed.

No cryogenic cloud room, life at 50,000 feet, for us, where the air is thin, and nothing lives, or moves, or has its being, save a few wispy stratus clouds.

No: life in this world renewed, and always renewing, full of the joy of living.

Is the pain remembered? Maybe; for a moment; but now there is peace, the eternal peace where, as Augustine says, we shall see rest, and love, and praise.

Praise. Worship. Worship, maybe finally worthy of the name. Worthy of a poet.

Here ends the Lesson.

Amen.

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