I attended a Memorial Service for the father of a good friend of mine the other day. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately. The service was held at a stately old Episcopal church downtown. The same one Douglas MacArthur attended when he was a boy. You could look it up, as the famous theologian Casey Stengel used to say.
The service was hardly a somber occasion. Dr. Thomas lived to be 95. He worked up until a year or so ago. He lived independently, albeit with a helper, until 2 or 3 months ago when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His son moved him into a nursing home where he died in his sleep a week or so ago.
We should all be so lucky. Most of us won't be.
I like the Episcopalians. The older I get, the more I am comforted by liturgy and symbols, by a mode of religious discourse that has remained relatively unchanged over time. The older I get, the less I am tolerant of preachifying. And don't even get me started on so-called "contemporary services" with the power point presentations and lousy music.
I concede that I haven't given it a fair chance. I don't care. I concede that I may be starting to act like a cranky old man.
I don't care about that either. Last time I looked it was a free country.
Nothing will put you off religion like theology. I have been grappling, on occasions when I feel like a good grapple, with the issue of theodicy, which is the branch of theology that concerns itself with reconciling the notion of a benevolent and loving God with the reality of human suffering. These days, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to suffering, bet the over.
And so it is that my church attendance has been irregular lately. I have trouble more and more manufacturing sense from what I perceive to be nonsense nowadays. Why should religion be any different? After all, there must be some reason God gave us brains and it can't be to give neurosurgeons something to do.
One of my best friends in law school has reached the same impasse. Or so I thought. He has begun attending Mass again. I asked him why.
" I don't know," he said. " I just felt like I needed to start going. Hard to explain." I understand how he feels. I enjoyed being amongst the Episcopalians yesterday. And I intend to attend services on Easter Sunday with my sister-in-law and nephews. I don't much know why either.
I know I like the Spring. The weather has been pretty crazy lately but things are blooming and the grass has returned. Baseball, both Major and Miracle League, have returned. My dogwoods really took a beating during the ice storm in 2000 and yet they still bloom a little. I hate to pull them out as long as they are going to stubbornly insist upon resurrecting themselves as best they can every year. I seem to be becoming friends with someone. I like it. It has been awhile. Things are going pretty well this Spring.
Easter, with its transcendent themes of triumph over despair, is far more compelling to me than Christmas, that most-and I apologize in advance- infantile of seasons. Victory remains in love at Easter and helps to put things in perspective.
We must all contend with despair from time to time. And yet we stubbornly insist on resurrecting ourselves as best we can.
I don't much know what I believe anymore. But it does not hurt to be reminded that victory remains in love.
At least it always does on Easter Sunday.