“The Measure of a Life” by Fr. Daniel Simons | August 12, 2020
There is an ancient prayer in the burial liturgy that both arrests and grounds me every time I hear it. It is prayed at the “Committal,” that portion of the service where we place a loved one’s remains in the ground (or return them to the elements). As earth is cast upon the body the ancient hymn proclaims, “…All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” These words catch hold of me every time. Singing at the grave.
They also make sense as I prepare for the burial on Tuesday of Holley Slauson, long-time priest associate of this parish. In the wake of Holley’s death this past Friday, I’ve heard story upon story, usually little vignettes that revealed facets of his personality. Wit and kindness are the two words that come up most. One friend also insightfully remarked, “Holly had the remarkable gift of ‘getting to the heart of the matter’ concisely and without offense.” All those facets create a mosaic of a life that was both deep and broad, with bright, sharp colors — lots of them!
The song “Seasons of Love” in the musical Rent asks the question: How do you measure the meaning of a person’s life? “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife? How do you measure, a year in the life? How about love?”
There is a remarkable warmth with which these stories about Holley are being retold, is it reaffirms for me once again that the measure of a life is less about achievement than participation, and is powered by Love (by which I mean love-as-interrelatedness more than love-as-sentiment) — Love in all its subtle and small and textured peculiarities and particularities, which create the dense fabric of relationship. It’s clear that in this way Holley loved and was loved well, and he had a deep and lasting and loving effect on this parish.
A life lived this way does indeed make sense of the Alleluias we sing at the grave. It is not just thanksgiving for the love that has been, it is a peal of praise for what Love is and always will be. We are made for love, we are held in love, and as Scripture says, “Love is stronger than death” (Song of Solomon 8:6). We are like stars that shine for one another: radiating inner light, expressing the deep pattern of the cosmos, and helping each other get our bearings.
The day after Holley’s funeral, I’ll be stepping back for several weeks of ‘staycation’ rest and renewal until Labor Day. That pause will I’m sure offer an invitation to get my bearings and reflect on life in all its dimensions. I’m looking forward to that time, and Holley goes with me as a reflection companion. Noticing the measure of his life helps me to continue to orient mine. I invite you to do the same in the August pause that these weeks offer. We will all benefit like never before from this kind of deep listening to our lives, as we collectively travel through the uncharted water of these days in which we live. As we go on — now, always, and everywhere — we make our song “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”