Seven years ago, shortly after I had been ordained as an interfaith minister, a friend asked me to find a reading for her mother’s funeral; she wanted a prayer about mothers. I looked high and low — on-line, in libraries and collections, and couldn’t find anything that was even remotely appropriate. It seemed vaguely shocking that mothers, who are universally important to humans, animals and the world, had been so poorly served in death.
So I duly wrote a reading for mothers, and read it at the funeral. After the wake a close relative came up to me and said, “that reading you did for ‘mothers’, I know that one, can you remind me who wrote it?” I realised then that I had written something that could be useful. If one can produce something original that resonates with the music of familiarity, one may have got it right.
Since then, after tending many funerals, I have been confronted many times with situations where people felt passionately about their loss, whether it’s a week old baby or a 99 year old parent, but were let down by the lack of loving, insightful prayers and poems. So I found myself writing for funerals, aspiring to honour the person who had died and their family. Because of this I’ve come to write over 100 interfaith readings, covering a great variety of life and death circumstances, adhering to the principles of truth, love and accessibility. The results have surprised me. People ‘feel’ as though the readings are right, and (so far) have always chosen them in preference to the more traditional or overused words recited in chapels over and over and over again. Most importantly they feel that the readings are relevant for today.
The readings I create cover a vast variety of situations, from general words of peace and rest, to prayers for children, relatives, thoughts about suicide, the journey of life and more recently reincarnation and near death experiences. At one point I produced a little book of funeral readings, which is used by interfaith ministers and celebrants, but as the words were constantly changing and the number of writings seemed to increase exponentially, the book has become less useful.
Nearly all the readings to date, plus a few more written by a talented friend – Claire Shelton-Jones, will appear in a week or two on a website called www.funeralstoday.org which I produced and designed myself (on account of the financial constraints). The production side of the website has been handled by the good website production company – Meerkats Digital Media.
Life is beautiful and poetic, as is death, and we have been uncertain and fearful about death for too long, and this is reflected in much of our writing. When writing for funerals it’s important to understand that death is not an enemy, nor is it usually horrible, in fact in some circumstances it has a mysterious beauty, unlike being born which can be noisy, bloody and momentarily uncertain for both mother and child. But let’s face it, birth and death are just those tricky little requirements if we aspire to enter this world and have a momentary look around in the incarnate state.