Carl had chosen a beautiful place, on the side of the mountain above her cabin. A sun-kissed spot. There was nowhere you could look without beholding beauty. Even the “parking lot” was beautiful, a whole pasture full of horses that the mountain folks had ridden in on.
Six men, in Wranglers and Carrharts, and flannel shirts, bore Magda up the slope, such a gentle weight without a casket. Her shroud was wreathed in flowers of all sorts, sunflowers mostly. All this homespun, tender, simple care for her struck me deeply. “God let me be buried with half as much love,” I thought.
Full as much, dear Naomi.
I blinked. Either I was going insane or I was having a honest-to-goodness interaction with God. My heart warmed at the thought. They laid the bier beside the grave and a soft breeze stirred the long grass.
There was no plan of service per se, no officiating person in a gray suit, directing the organized grieving. Noses were blown loudly into handkerchiefs. Someone called out, “Be Thou My Vision”, and there was a collective intake of air and then the most beautiful hymn I’d ever heard was taken up by the hundred or so, gathered round Magda.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whate’er befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Carl prayed, “God, thank you for Magda’s life. She knew how to truly love, as Your Word says, ‘greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ May our loss this day be for eternal gain, her example be a teacher to us to number our days aright, and live sold-out to You. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.”
“Amen”, echoed the crowd.
The men looped strong ropes under the bier and gently lowered it into the grave. Children came forward with wilted handfuls of dandelions, poor worried daisies, and various weeds and tossed them lovingly over Magda. She would have been delighted. She would have laughed. Maybe she is laughing now. For the first time in my life I felt assured that life did go on somehow. This wasn’t the end of Magda.
Carl and some other men picked up shovels, rolling up their sleeves. I was struck by it; how a homemade funeral gave men somewhere to go with their grief, something for their hands to do, some way to be useful. So much better, I thought, than the men standing around in stiff suits while professionals took care of things. I headed down to the cabin with the rest, where a huge meal awaited.
It was near two in the morning when the last of the guests departed. The ladies had taken over the house, serving the meal, filling glasses, passing out tissues, and cleaning it all up afterwards. Only mason jars full of flowers across the work table indicated that something special had happened.
For the first time in my life, I dropped to my knees, right there in the middle of the room, to pray.
“God, if you exist…”
My eyes snapped open. I couldn’t help smiling. The jury was till out whether this was impending madness or conversation with divinity, but it sure was exciting and new.
“I’m sorry that I never knew You. I want to open my heart to You, even if I don’t really know what that means. Um, can You accept me?”
How could I write out what I heard back? It was not so much words as it was a chorus of response, like if a voice could speak through a symphony’s combined glory. It was overwhelming in the most wonderful of ways. My eyes poured forth joyfully. I raised my hands and laughed from the depths of my soul. How light I felt! How clean!
“I love You!” I exclaimed, “I loved You in Magda didn’t I? It was You that reached out to me, wasn’t it? Oh God! Oh God!” I collapsed forward, fully stretched out across the floor and cried, just let all that joyful sorrow find release. I didn’t know Carl was witnessing all this from the window. I don’t even know that I would have cared.
Exhausted in every way, I finally stood, making my way over to the couch, I collapsed, blinked twice, and fell fast asleep.
to be continued…