Walking Our Faith: Observations from a stranger at a funeral
Walking Our Faith
Do you remember when we were kids? We’d take a piece of notebook paper and crumble it up and crumble it up and crumble it up until that piece of paper became as soft and strong as cotton flannel.
On Saturday I had the honor of attending the funeral of a man I never met. His name is Glenn and he loved Colorado. His funeral at Dillon Community Church began with a recording of John Denver singing “Rocky Mountain High” and ended with “Take Me Home Country Roads.”
And in between there were reminiscences from his brother Gerald, his son Brett and his daughter Brooke. Pastor Mark Hill gave a message of hope and led us in singing, “I Can Only Imagine.”
Glenn’s brother spoke of how when he heard the words to that song he knew it was about seeing Jesus Christ in Heaven, but he imagined what it will be like to someday see his brother restored to perfect health — he big brother who coached him in baseball, no longer ravaged by a debilitating disease.
It was a short service, but it was perfect. By the end, I wished I had met Glenn. He died at the age of 72, too early for an avid sportsman, but 10 years of Parkinson’s made every day of the last few years a challenge.
Yet, I had a sense I had met him through the people that spoke on his behalf. His daughter, Brooke, shared the drives they took home from soccer practice and the advice her father shared on her game. The adult daughter transformed before our eyes to the young athlete. He paid attention. And she noticed and treasured that memory in her heart all these years.
As his son Brett spoke, he pulled from a bag two volumes of a journal where Glenn recorded his performances in skiing and golf after each outing, and how he thought he might improve next time. There were his favorite books about golf and skiing, which we were told, he read again at the start of every season. On top of this small pile, Brett placed Glenn’s Bible. And then he shared a picture he’d taken some months before Glenn passed. You can see Glenn on the distant shore of a lake where he’d told Brett he’d gone to scout out a hiking trail.
After the service, after everyone had left the sanctuary, I couldn’t help myself. I walked up and gently laid my hand on the Bible. The cover was so well-worn it had separated from the rest of the book and as I lightly touched the pages, many of which had also become separated from the spine, they were as soft as cotton flannel. So well-worn from years and years of reading. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience of what they felt like and what they said to me.
The gently worn pages of Glenn’s Bible are the strongest testament I’ve ever received on what matters most in our walk with God. Yes, theology and church attendance deepen our understanding of God and encourage community.
But I believe our closest encounters with God come as we sit with him in silence, our Bibles open, our hearts open, in the quiet space where we reveal things that will never be known by anyone else. In that sacred space God finds us, and we find him.
That personal intimacy with God is earned over years or decades, in times of searching and sorrow. It can’t be as clearly experienced through a sermon or read in book, no, not even in a newspaper column. Communion with the Holy Spirit is as unique as our fingerprints, as hard-won as a lifelong loving relationship between parent and child or husband and wife or two dear friends.
We may be surprised to discover that those who have the deepest relationship with God are the quiet souls who sit in the back row of our churches and don’t belong to any committee. They may slip in after the first hymn and out before the preacher. The depths of our relationship with God will always be a mystery to all but God. But perhaps a closer look at the pages of our Bibles will tell a story.
Going to the funeral of a stranger is like trying to comprehend the beauty of a sunset for the blind. I was there because Glenn is the husband of Christy, a friend and one of the women in our Wednesday prayer shawl knitting group. I joined the other ladies from our group, two rows of grey-haired ladies in somber black. I’m surprised we didn’t bring our knitting.
Glenn was dearly loved by Christy, Gerald, Brett and Brooke. From my vantage point, he was a man who understood what it was to live a life in full and walk closely with God.
And isn’t this what we should all hope for? To love so well that a stranger can hear it in the voices of those who received our love, know they will find traces of our heart in the pages of our Bible, and on a mountaintop as we push off for one more run. This is a life well-lived.
Suzanne lives in Breckenridge. Her books are available at Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco and at the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver. Suzanne can be reached at email@example.com.
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