the atheist credo

IIt’s been almost a week since my Dad’s death and I think it’s probably okay to write about it here now.  This has been a complicated time. I was in California determinedly taking some badly needed time off. I arrived there last Thursday night to see my son and family. Dad died early Saturday morning. I received a cell phone call from the place he was living. They had been instructed to call my brother who was there in Holland but did not have his phone number, only mine. So I called him and he began to deal with it. Dad had requested cremation and Mark and I wanted to make sure Mom had a chance to see the body beforehand. She did and opted not to see it.  The cremation aspect helped me decide not to shorten my vacation. 

I fielded numerous phone calls in attempts to help and support people in Michigan. Eileen and I arrived back in town on schedule Wednesday evening. My daughter Sarah and her partner Matthew arrived within an hour. My son is planning to arrive on Saturday by himself. My daughter Elizabeth and her partner Jeremy will also arrive Saturday evening. Jeremy pointed out that this is one of the postive aspects of funerals…. that we get to see each other. This is a first time gathering of these very important loved ones. My adult children have not been in the same room since Sarah was in the third grade (according to our reckoning). 

The funeral will be at the Presbyterian church since that is the tradition Mom is most comfortable with.  I find this time confirming my own take on church and funeral homes which is pretty cynical. I find that planning the prayer service has little meaning for me other than making sure Mom and Mark are okay with it. Mark hates funeral homes and has discovered all over again why. I have fumbled around since getting back and made a couple of bad calls in efforts to pull this stuff together. Sigh.

I am more interested in the reception following the praying. I have hired a kick ass caterer and we are holding it at the apartment building where Mom and Dad spent their last two years together here in Holland.This enables many of their new acquaintances to easily take part.  I am looking forward to people standing around eating, drinking, talking and being with each other. My priest and I agree that this will be the “sacramental” moment. That is, a moment when the gathered mourners will be a visible sign of connectedness and emotion. 

One person sobbing and attempting to console said that now my “Dad knows.” Presumably she meant that he knew whether was an afterlife and the secrets of the universe would be revealed to him or something. I stupidly and honestly said maybe there’s nothing to know. Dealing with others reaction to my Dad’s death has helped me see that I experienced it as relief and have been doing some grief work over the period of time I have been present to his mental and physical decline.

Last night over drinks after choir rehearsal choir members and i discussed atheism. I had mentioned in the course of rehearsing Vaughan Williams beautiful “Tree of Life” anthem that Vaughan Williams was a professed atheist and at the same time a most spiritual composer whose works were a privilege to perform. Through the last few years I have found tremendous personal inspiration and consolation in the music, poetry and prose that I love.  I suspect this emotion is similar to what some people find in their philosophy or religion or belief in God or whatever. 

At the same time I realize that I have no working concept of God. I have found that living in the moment is not as easy as it sounds but is something for me to shoot for. The idea that we live our lives with our thoughts centered on what happens after we die is a silly one for me personally. On the other hand I see what strength it can give others especially those mourning a loved one and do not begrudge this one bit. 

Last night I conversationally observed that composers like Vaughan Williams and Verdi (also under discussion due to a recent local performance of his “Requiem”) probably were disassociating themselves from organized religion by proclaiming public atheism. 

This was me being tactful since there were people in the room struggling with the idea of atheism. 

I was raised with a very simple concept of God and steeped in the Christian Bible. As an adult I have found most concepts of God in religion confusing and not very believable much less helpful. But I do believe in the need to see and live beyond myself loving and respecting others and also to the observe and connect to the beautiful world around me. And the Bible and specifically the teachings of Christ turns out to color my entire understanding of my own life and the history of humans. 

When I first interviewed with my present boss I told her I was an atheist. She said this probably made me Episcopalian. What I think this might mean is that my personal belief is irrelevant to participation in my present community.  At least this is what it ends up meaning to me. My lack of coherent belief has troubled some readers of my blog. They see me as hypocritical because I am church leader who toys with atheism. 

This may be but at least I don’t hide it and of course I don’t believe this actually so. I am a good church leader and a good church musician. This might even be because of my own lack of fixed ideas about something that not one of us truly knows. Anyway, this is getting a bit cosmic and I have to go clean house and then screw up some more stuff on my Dad’s funeral. Heh.

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0 thoughts on “the atheist credo

  1. All this talk reminds me of something that a past choir member once told you: “Don’t you know, all musicians go to heaven!” ….I’m just hoping that they’ll let the wife in too, if this is the case! I love you!

  2. That was the school secretary at St. Damian’s who said that, bless her heart. The rest of her comment was “Where do you think it all comes from?” I love you, too!

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