Funerals are never on the top list of things to do. Not the ‘I wanna’ list anyway.
But when a death occurs in the family, or in the family of a dear friend, you offer your support: attend a ritual to help the living move forward and let the dead lie.
That’s how I found myself inside a catholic cathedral last year. (I’m not christian, in case you’re just stopping by – used to be, was trained to be, but then I discovered my beliefs – long story – follow along if you’d like to know more).
Life in a primarily christian surround becomes an ever-present obstacle course of fluxing themes and cultural inheritances; a deluge of seasonal visual and audio barrages that keep me reeling from sensory overload and instant transport back through my memory banks. There are times when I find myself with a hymn stuck in my head. Damn!
I digress. Back to the funeral. Not where I wanted to be, for certain, but where I went to give formal support to my friends.
There is a definite shadow of Torah upon which the catholic religion is based. I say shadow not to incite, but because when we’re talking about an entirely different god, I cannot with good conscience say that it is built on Torah. Structured to resemble/shadow, yes. Definitely. When you see a good thing… why reinvent the wheel, right?
So I’m watching the incense burner ritual, noticing the priest’s clothing, the washing of hands. I look around me at the grandeur, imagining that there is, at the very least, gold-plating on the vessels. Also, the physical structure of the cathedral, the massive columns, the intricate designs, the lavish shine and polish a replica of the temple built once kings were placed in an unwarranted position and allowed to replace the importance of the priesthood.
Suddenly, I feel the loss of what Almighty designed. The tears I shed are not the same as those shed by the people around me.
The loss of Torah, the exile, is more poignant when you have such a visual reminder.
Granted, those specific rituals would NEVER have been seen by the community. They were not available to the common man or to the Levites. Only Priests entered the Mishkan, and only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. The only things that may have been witnessed by the community were the sacrifices on the main altar, which stood outside the Mishkan.
The rituals served to bring back to mind the words of Torah, the commands in place for the structures, the rituals, the Priestly commands.
Catholicism has at least retained a decent copy of the hierarchical structure commanded by Almighty. Warped and extremely faulty, in my opinion, but a reminder, nonetheless, of the place Priests were given in Torah. The importance of an eternal heritage, a constant position to serve Almighty and to give the people a conduit for serving Almighty.
These thoughts were forefront as I contemplated the end of my life, in comparison.
What end-of-life closing rituals will I, or should I employ when I feel my life slipping away?
I have no need to accept a savior. I have no hell to fear, no heaven to which to aspire. I’ve no last rites or rituals commanded.
Those commands that I’ve broken are to be atoned as soon as I know them, and restitution made where required. Those commands that I’ve broken unknowingly are graciously covered annually through Yom Kippur.
What I will have is the ending of what I am now.
I reflected on the fact that I hope to have 30 to 40 more years of this life. A lot of time to live the example of my beliefs and to hope for an inheritance to share. A lot of time to watch the world go ticking along, for better or worse. A lot of time to put words on pages. A lot of time for pain, for sorrows, for hardships. A lot of time for beauty and joy and laughter. A lot of time for family and friends and food and work. A lot of time to consider my end.
And at the end, if the time of my end becomes clear to me, I hope to call a dear friend. I hope to make connection with my Priest and to tell him I’m ready for Almighty to give me Shalom. And I hope to sleep with my ancestors.