From the Psalms:
Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy temple;
praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts;
praise him for his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn;
praise him with lyre and harp.
Praise him with timbrel and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe.
Praise him with resounding cymbals;
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
Let everything that has breath
praise the Lord. Hallelujah!
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 150 (BCP Version) – December 9, 2012.)
Day before yesterday, I had a pretty good day in my ministry as rector of my parish. An Episcopal Church Women event went very well; we all had fun in what we were doing. I got home in the late afternoon and took care of a couple of personal matters, called my wife about the possibility of a “date night,” and when she said “Yes” I made reservations for dinner. I took the dog for a walk and, after my wife got home from work, we went out to dinner at our favorite local restaurant. When we returned home, I turned on my computer, checked my email, took a look at Facebook . . . and learned that Deb, a long time friend, a singer of great skill, and an occasionally very funny woman had passed away. It more than ruined the day.
Here’s the thing about my friend . . . we had known one another for over 15 years, but we had never met. We first became acquainted on an email listserve called “Anglican”, an internet community of Anglicans and Episcopalians all around the world. That list migrated from server to server, grew, shrank, suffered from spats and “flame wars”, eventually a few of its participants left to form another community, a virtual pub called “Magdalen’s Rose and Compass”. Deb and I kept “running into each other” in these virtual venues.
Over the years I learned about Deb’s life, her love of her husband, her deep connection with her severely handicapped step-son, her own difficulties with emotional balance. She learned about my life. We corresponded privately by email and publicly we participated in the listserve discussions and shared each other’s posts on Facebook.
Deb’s voice is sounding in my ears as I write these words. A CD of her Advent and Christmas music, performed with her singing partner Ana, is playing. Her voice is silenced, but lives on in her recordings; I’m sure she is singing in the heavenly chorus now.
A lot of folks don’t understand virtual community. Especially people my age and older will (as my mother would have said) “pooh pooh” the idea that friendship, community, or real relationship can be fostered through what seems to be the impersonal medium of computer-connected-to-internet. I’m here to witness that it most definitely can; deep and lasting friendships, spiritual connections, real and permanent community.
All around the world this weekend, Deb’s good friends, people like me who knew her well and never met her, are praising God for the witness of her voice, singing along with her and Ana’s voices and their wonderful instrumentation of pipes, drums, cymbals, prayer bowls, strings, and you name it! “I’m gonna tell my Jesus ‘Howdy’ one of these days!” she and Ana are singing on the stereo right now. She’s gotten there before the rest of us – she’s told Jesus “Howdy!” and she’s praising God in his holy temple, in the firmament of his power. In our own poor and sad voices, the rest of us are joining along.
It is fitting that Deb passed on during Advent. It is the season when we all look forward to seeing that heavenly temple, to singing in that chorus of “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” The burial rite of our church reminds us in the preface to the Great Thanksgiving that to God’s People, “life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.” A prayer in the funeral service admonishes us to, in quiet confidence,”continue our course on earth, until, by [God’s] call, we are reunited with those who have gone before.” Deb’s friends won’t be all that quiet, however; we’ll sing along loudly with her music until we see her again . . . or for the first time.
Memory eternal, Deb! Rest in peace and rise in glory!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.