In just a few months, I start seminary. I am both terribly anxious and terribly excited about this new (old) chapter in my life. The combination of being poor and this liminal time equally contributed to the exceptionally dark mood I was in today.
Somewhere along my journeys, I started to see cemeteries only as photography targets. I forgot that cemeteries have long been one of my special spaces – somewhere an introvert like me can find peace in the silence of the dead. So when my wife suggested we stop at one on our way home, I readily agreed.
Hidden out back in the cemetery were two things – a Golgotha recreation and a polished granite sundial.
I was standing on “the place of the skull”, and the importance of that act was not lost on me. This was a place where the worst of the worst criminals in Herod’s empire were led out for public execution by crucifixion. A public place designed for the soon-to-be dead to be seen by the still living – and a place where they would be sure to remember it. The place where, according to Christian teachings, Jesus was crucified to fulfill the original covenant of blood sacrifice as payment for the sin of the Israelites against G-d. Holy ground, no matter how you look at it.
I haven’t seen a Golgotha in decades. The last time I did was after praying the Stations of the Cross at a Catholic church somewhere in Indiana. The experience then was the experience today: the noise of my discordant existence fell away, leaving only stillness and peace. I was left with the awareness of my place in this world – and the work I am called to do.
I tenderly held that awareness as I passed a sundial monument, which bears this inscription:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden,
Than anywhere else on earth.
-Dorothy Frances Gurhey
Flowers grow and flowers die. In the end, all is temporary – but all is also eternal. What we do to our fellow flowers in the interim is what we will be known by to Eternity. Not our mansions, not our fleets of luxury cars, but only how we help our fellow flowers grow in the Universe’s garden.
In a flash, I saw cemeteries not as places of pervasive silence, forgotten grief, and existential dread; but rather places of hope and inspiration. We all die – it’s what we do in the time between birth and death that matters. I shared this experience via this Facebook Live video:
The simple truth is that injustice is everywhere. Pain is everywhere. Suffering is everywhere. But so is hope… and so is love. Regardless of the anguish that is inherently found in the human condition, the Talmud reminds us that we are not permitted to abandon the work of alleviating it.
To that most noble purpose am I enjoined, and to that purpose so we are all enjoined. It’s time to get to work.
May it be so, and may we be the ones who make it so.