A Homily in Celebration of the Life of
Barbara M. Reader
by the Reverend David Albert Farmer, Ph.D.
Pastor, Silverside Church
January 19, 2019
Barbara Reader was one of the most thoughtful-gifted-intelligent though utterly unassuming people I have ever known. One of the former local members of the Silverside family, Dr. Steve Fifield—now in Michigan—texted me a few hours ago in reference to the news of Barbara’s sudden death: “So sad…but also appreciating memories of what a kind soul she expressed.”
Indeed, she gladly and tirelessly gave her time and attention to tasks that brought her no spotlight, limited expressions of gratitude, and invitations to keep doing more of the same. The only way she ever drew any attention to herself was by driving Teslas, and even that was for the most part a statement on the environment.
She died as she lived, didn’t she? Entirely without fanfare. What she knew, if anything at all, about the cancer that claimed her life as far as most of know was a mystery. She hinted in the last couple of days on this Earth that she might have suspected something not quite right internally, but there was never a diagnosis and no treatment, of course. This has added to the sadness and shock for those of us having to say our earthly goodbyes to Barbara, but I’m not sure Barbara looked at the prospects as so dire. This is speculation on my part because she never uttered a word to me about her health in the nearly 19 years I was her pastor.
Let me explain. Barbara was entirely in tune with nature. Not only did she appreciate its power and its beauty, but also she was in sync with its ebb and flow—with lifecycles, seasons, migration patterns, planting times, and so on. There’s a Native American proverb not traced as far as I know to any particular tribe; it describes how those in tune with nature encourage each other to live:
Listen to the wind; it talks.
Listen to the silence; it speaks.
Listen to your heart; it knows.
That makes me think of Grandmother Willow speaking to Pocahontas in the first Disney “Pocahontas” installment, giving life advice:
All around you are spirits, child
They live in the earth, the water, the sky,
If you listen, they will guide you.
So I think Barbara had a sense of her own earthly life as part of the natural order of things. She loved life; she treasured her place in the beauty of it all and her sharing of the day to day unfolding with John and Liz and eventually Rick. But she certainly knew that the time would come when she would transition out of this realm of existence.
I doubt that anyone here would disagree with me when I say, “Barbara died to this world much too young.” And if she realized in her last days what could have been happening to her physically I’d bet she would agree because she had lots more to do. Still I think, Barbara was most comfortable letting nature take its course, and for her that must have meant without medical intervention. (I’d like for blog readers to know that I have the permission of Barbara’s family to post these comments about her health. –df) If I’m correct, our dear friend died on her own terms. That is definitely something to be admired and respected.
However we manage it, biology eventually wins out in this world with all of us, physically speaking. The Apostle Paul was trying to make both a practical as well as a theological point when he wrote this to the first Christian congregation established in Corinth:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it offwe will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. The One who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord– for we walk by faith, not by sight.
The practical lesson: our physical bodies are not eternal. They are utterly amazing—more miraculous than most of us realize.
Paul refers to our physical bodies in this passage as “tents”; tents can be rugged, but they’re not permanent structures. They can’t last forever, and they’re not suited to protect us from every weather-related challenge that comes along. But they travel with us, and with the right care they serve us well unless diseases or accidents come into play.
Paul doesn’t give us any clues, here at least, about what he thinks the “heavenly dwelling” will be like, but it’s not limited biologically or temporally. That much is certain, and that to a large extent was the theological point he was making.
Many here at this celebration-of-life service would say there isn’t really anything beyond this world and that talk about anything more is sweet sentiment intended to help people deal with grief and the impermanence of earthly life. That’s a respected perspective at Silverside and perhaps the majority view. It is not, however, my view.
I take great comfort in the idea that the next realm is what I perceive as God’s more intimate embrace. It is not my goal to get people to agree with me, but I can only speak from the truths I embrace.
I think as Barbara’s tent wore out she leaned away from this world and into God’s more intimate embrace where she was and is able to take in more fully what tents can’t accommodate: the full intensity of God’s love. We can’t completely take it in, in this world—either in terms of experience or understanding. Indeed, as Paul reminded the Corinthians, the best we can do in this world—and the most—is to walk by faith because we can’t walk by sight; this is the balance of Paul’s theological point made to the Corinthians in the passage I read earlier. Faith in this context is trust and anticipation, not acceptance of a set of doctrinal ideas.
The writer of the typically abused book of Revelation in Christian scripture had a vision of what goes on for those who experience God in the heavenly realm:
…God Godself will be with them;
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more….
Chief Seattle, the Suquamish/Duwamish chief for whom the Washington city is named, thought of it this way: “There is no death,” he said, “only a change of worlds.”
It’s impossible for me to think of all the places of beauty and importance in this church without thinking of Barbara—in this sanctuary where she arrived (usually a little late) about every Sunday including the Sunday just before she died to this world, in Cline Hall where we sat and ate together many times at midweek meals, in the lounge or the pastor’s parlor where she was often in attendance at Bible studies, in the finance office where she got money given to the church ready for deposit, greeting members and friends and visitors as they entered on Sunday mornings through the narthex.
Losing Barbara is a huge loss for us at Silverside; yet, we know that the loss is compounded for John and Liz and Rick. To the three of you: we will not forget Barbara, and we will not forget you. Thank you for sharing her with us all these years.