JAMES BEHRENS: Death compels us to knit a living web of hope for each other

In the last parish where I served, right before I came here, there were a lot of funerals. We had about 90 or so every year. I thought it interesting that the number did not vary that much from year to year. The pastor took a share of them. Roughly speaking, I had about half or nearly 50.

Karl Rahner wrote that the most important moment in the human journey is death. It is the moment when we are called to radically trust and lay down our lives.

Toward the end of his life, I think he realized the enormity of the mystery that was soon envelope him. He impressed me as dying with open arms and a hope in his heart that he would live again. Our words, our projections onto the after life, do not help all that much.

But in the parish, I saw a lot every year that made me wonder about what people really thought about death, about the Kingdom. I saw a man buried with golf balls and a gold club. Another family placed a bottle of Scotch in the arms of the deceased. I saw a woman buried with playing cards. Our organist was buried with sheet music. Another person went into the ground holding car keys in her hands.

We are not unlike our forebears -- people who took to their graves everything from boats and chariots to a favorite pet.

It is hard for me, if not impossible, to glean from Scripture exactly what Jesus meant by his words, words about the Kingdom, about judgment, about who will make it and who won't. We stumble through our rites and words on this side of the grave, trying to define with the paucity of words what heaven and hell are like and who will enter one or the other. We put a frame around the ultimate mystery of existence and try and paint a picture on the void.

In the end, we only know that our words will cease. Scripture tells us that we can only hope for what we cannot see or touch. Something is absolutely beyond our grasp and our vision, yet it is coming.

And in our poverty, we hope for it, for ourselves and for those we love. We somehow knit a living web of hope for each other, and hope that it is God doing the hoping through us.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote that she wondered where all the love of the past went. Looking back over history, she wrote so beautifully about all the pain and joy of human loving and wondered just where it was.

I believe that it all somehow is, and it is more real than we can see. It moves us, pushes us, inspires us to move ahead and hope for wondrous things. It warms our hearts to say the most beautiful things, to write poetry, to sing, to hope the best we can.

And in that light, the gift of a golf club or two is understandable. A gift for the journey, a hope for green pastures with, perhaps, a fairway or two.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.