Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Memorial Homily For Sherry

Monday afternoon, the day after Sherry’s death, her family sat down with me to consider what we would do today at this service. I had with me the usual resources I bring to such a moment: a hymnal, a prayer book, a volume of suggested readings. Into the room came Nicole, holding a slim clothbound journal. “I found this on Sherry’s shelf,” she said, “It seems to contain some of her favorite quotations.”

This was as if Sherry were still helping us.

In monasteries and convents, such a book is called a liber scintillarum, a book of sparks. Each person in the community might keep one to record words that have spoken with power and clarity, quotations not to be forgotten, discoveries fresh from experience. This was Sherry’s book of sparks. From it came the scripture portions we’ve heard this morning.

What ignites one person’s spirit may not set the next person’s soul on fire. That’s not the purpose of such a book. It’s to keep one’s own feet to the fire, to remember what it was that kindled the heart and mind and will. Even the book’s owner may not know what patterns emerge in these keepings of private contemplation, not meant for the public eye.

But as I handled those pages, as I glanced from entry to entry, I couldn’t help wondering, “How did these ideas, these visions, spark Sherry to be who she was and do what she did?”

And what I specifically had in mind was how she embraced her own experience, these past three months, so positively and courageously and without complaint. How did she do that? Just asking that question made me realize that Sherry had been doing exactly that over many years, not in this season only. To be in awe of how she handled these recent months is to remember one of her traits we most admired.

As we have heard eloquently today, there was so much to admire. Sherry was gifted at making friends, and keeping friends. And more, inspiring friendships around her, wherever she was. Her deep openness to her friends anointed each day of this recent ordeal with the oil of lovingkindness.

Death has come so soon to one so full of sparks. This may feel to be beyond understanding and, perhaps, beyond acceptance. For me, it does not help to assign this to the will of God. I believe we saw the grace of God in how swiftly and peacefully her circle was drawn whole, once it was clear that therapies were not working. And I am certain we saw the grace of God in her sweet courage, in how she treated us, how to the very end she kept drawing people in, how she soared on wings like an eagle.

And I am sure that we have seen, in the strength and tenderness and attentiveness of Bud and Erik and Cam and Nicole and Ethan and Elise, what grace can look like in action.

Our scriptures—Sherry’s scriptures—tell us today that action is what matters. She is in the book of sparks that each of us has collected in these years of our loving her. And I believe she has told each and every person here (and so many beyond, who cannot attend today) that each of us is bound into the great volume, the magnum opus, of her love.

I notice that, at the start of Sherry’s verses from the Book of Isaiah, stars appear in the night sky. God is said to bring out the starry host one by one, calling each by name.

To us, Sherry is a star.

It’s said that the minerals of our bones come from the far-flung dust of stars, one more testimony that nothing in our experience can be lost or wasted. Today we celebrate what rich life we have within us, among us, by the sparks of our friend, Sherry. Our tribute to her will grow as we keep finding ways to inspire friendship, keep treasuring old friends, keep introducing new friends in the making, keep relishing the stories that mustn’t be forgotten, keep including, keep drawing-in, keep sending sparks into the universe.

June 18, 2010
St. John's Parish, Williamstown, Massachusetts