Plain, practical faith

Recently, another of my old aunts died. Aunt Anne was the oldest of my dad’s sister, but younger then my father, who was the eldest. The Olfert family was a large one, with six boys and six girls. Three sisters and a brother remain.

Aunt Anne was a grand old lady, who carried the Olfert trait of great determination. Her life was often not an easy one. A long time widow, she had also buried two of her children. In an age when farm women usually found enough to do with parenting and raising a large family, Aunt Anne chose to find full time work off the farm, in addition to managing family affairs. She did it all well.

My strongest memories of Anne are of her determination (there’s that word again) to create family. That included the myriad nieces and nephews that filled her home on the weekends that she was free of her town work, and could host extended family on Sunday afternoons. If you shared genes with her, you had a fierce ally.

At Aunt Anne’s funeral service, the large contingency of Olfert cousins, my generation, offered a testimony to her importance in the family. This group, about thirty in number, aged about 50 to 75, are somewhat loud and indecorous, and we enjoy our times together, At the reception, cousin Terry, who has no need of a sound system, suddenly shouted loudly. When attention was turned his way, Terry pointed out that we seem to have the biggest and best reunions at either weddings or funerals. He then asked the hall full of people who was going to volunteer to be next!

The crowd chuckled appropriately, as appropriately as Olferts are able. Then, in the moment that followed, Aunt Tina, Anne’s sister, slowly made it to her feet. Another aged sister, Margaret, joined her. These two grand old ladies stood, with twinkles in their eyes.

I giggled for an hour or so. That’s a testimony to who these sisters are, solid, strong, peaceful women, who take just a little delight in outrageousness.

On the drive home, another reality occurred to me, one that brought comfort. These two old mentors, aside from providing this quirky offer to their family, these two old ladies are living and sharing a spirituality that is strong and good. They are ready to die, when the future goes that way. They have lived well, have loved well, and are simply at peace with whatever lies down the road. Their view of God, of the afterlife, is simply one of confidence and peace. It will be good.

Years ago, I sat at the bedside of a dying man. I didn’t know him well, and had been asked to make a pastoral visit. These are visits that I typically appreciate, offering assurance and hope, listening to important final stories. But this man was not in that space. With great spiritual agony, he recounted to me the children, grandchildren in his family who had not yet made a profession of faith. His guilt was insurmountable; he had failed in his life’s task.

I don’t know if my words of comfort resonated in any way with that anxiety laden soul. I do know that as I left his room, I felt a surge of anger at whatever institution, whatever individual, had filled this haggard man with this bizarre and guilt ridden notion of God.

I’ll go with the plain and practical faith of the old aunts. Aunt Tina was my Sunday School teacher in childhood days. Her understanding of the holy, her version of the Biblical stories, were filled with a theology of “yes.” Yes, God loves you, yes, God loves all people, and living that is what it means to live well, to live faithfully. Tina is loved because her energy is directed to building up, not tearing down.

And Margaret. Her husband told a story of driving down a highway, encountering road construction. Soon he was fuming, why don’t they work differently so they don’t have to disrupt traffic so much! And he recalls Aunt Marg making the gentle observation, “oh, they probably have their reasons for doing it like that.”

Give me gentle. Give me patient. Give me wise. Hopefully. I will approach death with confidence, and maybe with a little twinkle. The ones who come after can party!