Creating a Funeral – A Journey into an Unknown Land – without Front or Back

Many of us die without any kind of ritual or funeral. Those unfortunate enough to die far from home, victim to the cruelties or vagaries of man or nature may be deprived of a ceremony of departure, but more usually humans need to mark the place and time of the death of a beloved, whether they are just one day old, or 100 years. Our history, as a species carrying out rituals celebrating the end of human life through ceremony, can be charted as far back as 60,000 years before the birth of Christ, which puts many of our existing faiths in an interesting and modest place on the map of world history… P1030269

There is a move to celebrate death in a new and more creative way, focused on the sacredness of the departed. For people wanting to do things this way the established faiths don’t always deliver.  Yet free-flowing creative funerals are still encumbered by the way we’ve done them in the past… and it’s true to say just about any kind of ritual needs a beginning, middle and an end. The problem with these new kinds of funeral is that the tools — the readings, the words and the music that support the component parts of this three part structure, are not always there. When I started writing readings for funerals I didn’t realise that although I was creating ideas about unique people and circumstances of death, I was just writing content for the middle part of the funeral – www.funeralstoday.org

Now I am working on the beginning and the end readings, because it is so hard to find those bits, in fact near impossible. I have two obvious openings, one that was never intended for funerals, but has been used many times called Open the Heart, but it’s not suitable in some situations, so I wrote another, called The Moment of Opening.

P1030420It’s the closing words to the funeral that present a real problem. For those happy with tradition, The Lord’s Prayer is beautiful, but lots of people no longer resonate with biblical readings. For years now I’ve been using the Celtic Blessing (at the bottom of this page) but for some that doesn’t work either; it’s “the Son of Peace” and “God holding you in the hollow of His hand” that is just too much for some of us. So I change the words, but it still doesn’t always work. So I have set myself the tricky task of writing something that will bring spiritual and poetic closure to the service. Trouble is, the Celtic Blessing is hard to beat for sheer beauty and brilliance.  There is a nice musical version called The Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter, which shows that it’s possible to churn out authentic sacred music in the 21st Century, although it must be said, these words have astonishing power when spoken aloud.

Celtic Blessing

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rains fall softly upon your fields
Until we meet again…
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand

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