Posts Tagged graves

Count Each Day – John D. Pierce*

There was something notably different about the gravestones in the Myer Homestead cemetery than the markers seen in so many other burial places.

Established in 1759, the cemetery — with both aging headstones and freshly turned dirt — serves as the final resting place for now eight generations of farmers of German descent who’ve worked and cared for the surrounding land in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

There are also graves of blacksmiths, furniture makers and educators — some of whom served as church leaders. The community is tight knit because the Amish way keeps things that way.

The notable difference is that the inscribed stones not only give the dates of the deceased person’s birth and death — either in English or German — but enumerate one’s exact time on earth down to the number of days.

Counting each day is not only a good way to remember the dead but also to more fully embrace and celebrate earthly living.

My perspective on this temporal journey has benefited from two perspectives gained over the years.

The first came from the late Baptist-turned-Episcopal preacher John Claypool, who reminded us with simplicity yet profound insight that “life is gift.” It is a perspective that enables gratitude to be the filter through which we view our waking into a fresh, new day.

We can not only count the years — with birthdays, anniversaries and other annual celebrations — but also count each day of life as another yet unopened gift.

The second perspective came while visiting historic cemeteries in England several years ago.

In each case, I tried to “place” the influential individual into the specific “slice of history” in which they lived. It was an effort to better understand what was going on at the time.

Then it dawned on me that each of us has a particular slice of history in which we live — and, to a large degree, decide how to live within it.

Our time frame is truly ours. We decide how to approach the days, months and years — no matter how short or long, or in what period and place we live.

Circumstances are often placed upon us, yet perspectives are of our choosing.

Some aspects of life are beyond our control. Some are very much within our control. Yet, all are viewed through the lenses of our choosing.

There is wisdom, it seems, in adding to these two perspectives of life a greater consciousness about the living of our days. Each day. Every day.

Children, at least, count their lives in half years. But you don’t often hear someone say, “I’m 56 and a half now.” Maybe we should.

In fact, what would it be like to know the number of days we’ve experienced already? Or, at the least, to have them all added up and carved in memoriam.

Sure, there are tough days that we are eager to see come to an end. There are trying times when life seems more like a trick than a treat.

Yet, even those experiences can be seen through the lenses of life’s giftedness and as a defined slice of history. It may take reaching the other side of such challenges, but it is not the ease of life that always enriches its rewards.

People of faith often quote or sing the affirmation of the psalmist: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, NASB).

But have we noticed that the emphasis is not on the week, month or year, but on the day?

The popular musical Godspell, from the 1970s, gave us a memorable song titled, “Day by Day.”

Spending weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it gained a wide audience well beyond the church — where it was, of course, assailed by the self-righteous who preferred their more cautious rendering of the Gospel of Matthew.

The recording of that song, featuring unknown and uncredited lead singer Robin Lamont, spoke to how our faithfulness in following Jesus is a daily endeavor and experience. The chorus provided a needed three-fold prayer:

“To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

Life can sweep by us so quickly that we fail to acknowledge each rising and setting of the sun. Worry, regret, overplanning and preoccupation with “to do” lists are just a few of the culprits that can rob us of needed perspective during the living of our days.

Intentionally breaking down our lives into those units of time that take place from the beginning of each new day to our resting each night might be a helpful discipline. It could enable us to better see each new start — and the hours that follow — as both gift and opportunity.

Our days are numbered. So let us count the days and make the days count.

John Pierce

Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.

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Rituals with Meaning Are Grounded in Our Sacred Story Chautauqua Daily – Mary Lee Talbot

August 20, 2015

“Here is something for you to think about over lunch: What would Jesus do if you invited him to lunch?” said the Rev. Anna Carter Florence at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “He would not wash, he would not behave, and he would insult your mother and everyone else at the table.” Her sermon title was “Unmarked Graves,” and the Scripture was Luke 11:37-44. Jesus had been invited to dinner by a Pharisee, and when he showed up, he did not act as a guest was expected to: He did not wash his hands before eating, and he insulted his host. “Woe to you, for you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it,” Jesus said in the Scripture. The Pharisees were upset, and they represent everyday people, Florence said. “Jesus is calling us out on something we didn’t expect,” she said. She began her sermon describing her childhood neighborhood in Connecticut. There were fields and woods she and her brother explored, including an old graveyard. It was not attached to a church, but was tended by someone; there were flags on the graves on Memorial Day, and the grass was cut every year. Florence and her brother loved to look at the old stones and try to figure out something about the people whose graves they marked. “It was a friendly place — if you can say that about a graveyard,” she said. “Not spooky or haunted, but a secret garden with stories.” As the land was developed, the graveyard was no longer tended, the stones began to fall and the ground became a thicket and then a forest. “It is more haunted than sacred now,” she said. Florence also described the discovery of an AfricanAmerican burial site in lower Manhattan. “It is one of the saddest things to imagine people walking over the unmarked graves of the first slaves and free black people,” she said. “People were walking on the site without realizing what was there. How do we mark and honor sacred ground? What do unmarked graves require of us, and what do they mean?” Sometimes, graves are unmarked because people cannot afford a marker, she said. Sometimes, the grave markers are removed to make way for progress. This happens to Native American and small, country burial grounds all the time, she said. “Often, it is just the passage of time,” Florence said. “Years go by. The stones fall. No one remembers what was there. The ground becomes forest. Like Stonehenge, we don’t know exactly why they are there or what they are for. We can make up something, but if it is not grounded in our own sacred story, we will look silly.” The Pharisees had many rituals, and many of them made sense. Rituals help to keep things running smoothly. “They make sense when they reflect who we are, but they can outlive their usefulness when they are not grounded in our sacred story; then they become unmarked graves,” she said. Because the Pharisee thought washing hands before dinner was important, Jesus’ actions shocked his host. But Jesus, Florence said, was pointing to cleanliness of the heart, the state of the soul. “To have a clean heart we have to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” she said. “That is when rituals make sense and have depth.” If people can’t tell how they do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, things are out of balance and need to change. “We need to keep ourselves honest,” Florence said. “We need to rethink things. How did we forget who we are? Then it’s time for the Pharisee to go back to Chautauqua and time to invite Jesus to dinner again and be a guest who won’t behave.” The Rev. Bruce Archibald presided. Carol Hoglund, a retired teacher and active participant in Knitting4Peace, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang “Jesus Lead the Way” with words by Nicolaus von Zinzendorf and setting by Richard Proulx. The Dr. William N. Jackson Religious Initiative Fund and the John William Tyrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services. R

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