Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A spiritual legacy

Today we said goodbye to Doreen Cooper, whose unexpected death ten days ago shocked us all. There had been little sign of life threatening illness. She was found dead at home after failing to turn up for an appointment, sitting on the stairs with her coat on and a letter in her hand, ready to go out to the postbox. She was quite an organised person in some ways, and from what I knew of her ready to go whenever the Lord called her, as she would put it. She'd pre-paid her funeral arrangements after her husband died sixteen years ago.

Nearly a hundred people came to pray their respects - from the Parish of Roath where she'd spent most of her worshipping life, and most of our regular congregation, where she'd made herself at home five years ago, when the Parish congregation at St Teilo's school stopped meeting for worship.

At seventy eight she still rejoiced in a full head of undyed black hair, and took a lively intelligent interest in everything. She went everywhere with Mary, a neighbour widowed in the same year. They never missed anything at church unless either of them was away on family visits. She clearly enjoyed the Lenten meditation courses I gave and would often comment on them with a smile.

When I visited her children and their families a few days ago to discuss the funeral, I discovered she had it all sorted out, as well as paid for - hymns and suggested contributions to the order of service. No eulogy was to be given, but instead a poem by William Blake expressing her committed and questioning faith.

You don't believe - I won't attempt to make ye:
You are asleep - I won't attempt to wake ye.
Sleep on! sleep on! while in your pleasant dreams
Of Reason you may drink of Life's clear streams.
Reason and Newton, they are quite two things;
For so the swallow and the sparrow sings.

Reason says `Miracle': Newton says `Doubt.'
Aye! that's the way to make all Nature out.
`Doubt, doubt, and don't believe without experiment':
That is the very thing that Jesus meant,
When He said `Only believe! believe and try!
Try, try, and never mind the reason why!'

I'd never come across this poem before, and was delighted that her son was willing to read it at today's funeral Eucharist. As Doreen was a regular at the midweek Eucharists as well as on Sundays, so this was an appropriate send off. Nearly half the congregation took communion - unusual in modern circumstances.

Remarkably, she left a hand written selection of scriptural verses, that had evidently been a consolation to her over the years of her widowhood. Members of the choir and her family welcomed her body into church overnight, and at the vigil office I read her scripture selection, and then used it again at the Committal in Thornhill. It was as if she herself was speaking to her family unequivocally about the faith which sustained her through life. A very Anglican faith, rooted in tradition, reason and scripture, centred on the love of God in Jesus his Son, incarnate now in Word and Sacrament. We're all the poorer for her passing.

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