Now that nature has delivered up its bounty of goodness for winter storage, the cycle of rest and restoration begins again. The bees still hover over the later flowers and small creatures stash their secret hoards for harsher climes. There is a time to work and a time for repose, a time to live and a time to die. The perfect circle of change and renewal is reflected in many of our cultural traditions, which in themselves undergo evolving adaptations.
In bygone days, the old Irish tradition of addressing grief and loss for the departed loved one, was expressed in music and song at a wake. For three days and nights, the entire local community might visit the home of the departed to pay respects and even more importantly, to show support for the mourning family. Integral to this revered process was the tradition known as KEENING. As family and friends sat together, the keener would enter the room, a bodily representative of mortality, and all would be hushed in expectation. Then began the ritual of giving voice to grief in words and music that would channel the emotions of the collective mourners and display their united sorrow. As the music ebbed and flowed, it would be accompanied by wailing, this being the outpouring of a deep inner sense of loss and as a means of helping the mourners to move on and cope with changes to family structure.
Nowadays we still observe the ritual of keening, but in a different guise. Communities gather at places of death to lay flowers in such abundance that the length of a street may be adorned from railings to pavement with floral tributes and messages. We light candles, keep night-long vigils or march in solidarity to protest at an untimely or unjust death.
Keening has been discarded now in the original sense, as too primitive for our progressive society, which to some extent has been numbed by daily television viewings of the dramatized versions of death. So it is perhaps heartening that we have found ways to express our collective sense of grief even if in less harrowing manner.
Furthermore, notice of an impending funeral has morphed into a celebration of life, accompanied by videos of happy moments, a list of achievements and eulogies of respect and admiration. The funeral song has been replaced by bright modern hymns or favourite music and the wake has become a time of socializing and reunion.
When Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue knew that his daughter was dying, he came and pleaded with Jesus to bring healing to her. Jesus was delayed on the way and received word that the child had died. On arrival at the home of Jairus, he was confronted by a crowd of mourners, wailing loudly in the traditional expression of grief. Knowing that their services would soon be redundant, Jesus dismissed all but three disciples and the parents of the child.
It is recorded that at the command of Jesus, the child’s spirit returned and she was restored to active life.
When Jesus called Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha back to life after four days in the tomb, he spoke these words that have brought comfort and hope to all generations since that day.
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die. (John 11 v 25)
Thus it is, that whilst the pain of separation remains, the hopeless sense of loss has been transformed into an expectation of reunion in a place of unimaginable beauty and joy.
We are simply in transition from one form of life to the next, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our faith in him.
As nature pulls back into its time of rest, we know that it is gathering strength, repairing damage and renewing its magical beauty and diversity to delight us with that fresh burst of vigour soon to come. Springtime is just around the corner.