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ROTW #10: Honoring and Remembering

If not for the accelerated summer term schedule, our Religions of the World class might have spent some time exploring the tradition of Sikhism. It’s included in our text, but time did not permit any focus on it. It was, and still is, of some interest to me due to an experience I had during my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) chaplaincy rotation at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC). 
 
In late October 2007, I had a small role in a Ceremony of Remembrance and Gratitude for a resident we lost at GHBC.  I had met the family while 'ministering on the way'. The man, who was a husband, father and retired naval officer, was already under Hospice Care when we met. I do not know if he was aware of my brief presence in his life, but my experience with him, his family and those around him who cared for him left a lasting impression on me. From information available to me as a chaplain, I knew his faith background as Christian/Episcopalian; however his daughter was a practicing Sikh. She was very open in sharing her beliefs and practices regarding Sikhism. When her father died, part of the ritual honoring of her father was to bathe his body in milk before his cremation.  

For the celebration of his life, I gather the format and content was much different from most anything GHBC had done in the past.  While an Episcopal Priest/Staff Chaplain was present and available to officiate, a Social Worker served as Master Mistress of Ceremony.  There was music played at piano and organ (Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" and "Hornpipe" from "Water Music") at the start and the conclusion which was lovely, lots of poems were read by different folk (including me), and remembrances offered by family and friends, but no scripture was heard or homily offered.  There were some Navy songs ("Anchors Aweigh", "Navy Blue and Gold", "Destroyermen" (which only a handful knew to sing), and The Navy Hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save").  Some other singing ("In God There is No East nor West", "Shall We Gather at the River?") and the reading of Psalm 23 (the King James version) were the only things remotely familiar to a memorial setting offered at GHBC.  Please note the change from Christ to God in 'East nor West'.  

It was lovely observance, and different.  I know some were concerned that a precedent has been set; that a model different from the traditional offering has now been cast for ministering to the bereaved and sorrowing.  Some people may be a bit hurt by being marginalized from the roles they customarily serve in.  But I understand the family dynamics in this particular instance involved a daughter walking and living in the Yoga tradition who wanted to honor and remember her father.  Whether the widow had any say in this, or had abdicated responsibility to her child, I do not know.  I've learned only a little about Yoga.  The essence of this tradition is relationship between one's individual consciousness and the Universal Consciousness.  Therefore Yoga refers to a certain state of consciousness as well as to methods that help one reach that goal or state of union with the divine.  At one point, we were asked to join in chanting a sacred word to help release his spirit back to the Universal Consciousness.  I heard many other voices as I shared my own.

Honoring and Remembering is a very personal thing.  I'd heard from the Executive Director of GHBC that their community is more ecumenical and "less churchy".  In the theme of ecumenism, my understanding and belief is that God (as I refer to Him) is "so much bigger than all of this".  We should be willing to tote a bigger tent for all to gather in, and stand together side by side to be counted.  There are many ways to honor God, and each other; in this life, and in the life to come. A time of dying and death can be so traumatic for family and friends as they cope with issues of their own mortality. “Letting go” is still hard to do. Throw into that mix the different and divergent practices, rites and rituals people choose to show reverence, respect, honor and remembrance. Honoring and Remembering has no one way of being done. It is a very personal thing.