A Memorial Service, Memory, and the Eventual Gifts of Suffering

Last night was the memorial service, not just for Paul Lee, who died on Thursday, but for everyone affected by the SPU shooting. My twenty-two year old daughter and I came straight from the gym. We arrived about five minutes early, and the place was packed, so our friend Celeste said we could sit on the stage, facing out. So Chloe walked sheepishly up in her t-shirt, gym shorts and flip flops, and I toddled up, to lend a speck of grey to the young heads of hair on the stage.

Being on the stage meant we saw everything from the back. When Paul’s dance group got up to dance, starting with their backs to the congregation, we saw the sobs gulped down, the red eyes, the tears. When hundreds rose or sat or raised hands, we saw a great movement of grief and praise.

The service was lovely, rich, honest–as all the worship services at SPU have been. It began with a reading from Psalm 27 and the Taize song, “I am sure I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” which we sang, in Taize style, six or seven times. During the prayer for the victims, including the entire SPU community and the shooter, individuals lit lanterns and candles set around a foot high cross that someone had crafted for the Lee family. Then we all wrote prayers and deposited them at the foot of the cross and candles. The service ended in earnest praise. It began even before it began, with a poem, For Suffering, by John O’Donahue, which each of us received as we walked in.

May you be blessed in the holy names of those

Who, without you knowing it,

Help to carry and lighten your pain.

May you know serenity

When you are called

To enter the house of suffering.

May a window of light always surprise you.

May you be granted the wisdom

To avoid false resistance;

When suffering knocks on the door of your life,

May you glimpse its eventual gifts.

May you be able to receive

the fruits of suffering.

May memory bless and protect you

With the hard-earned light of past travail;

To remind you that you have survived before

And though the darkness now is deep,

You will soon see approaching light.

May the grace of time heal your wounds…

 

Last night, I was struck by a few words in this prayer.

eventual gifts. The eventual gifts of suffering. Not now. Later.

memory. The hard-earned light of past travail. The power of memory to lead us ahead, to prepare us to walk through the inevitable door of suffering.

Not fragrant memories, either. No sentimentality. The hard-earned light of past travail.

This prayer or poem or benediction offers a context–or is it a crucible?–for suffering. It takes us from the hard-earned light of past travail far into the future, to the eventual gifts of suffering.

 

 


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