Friday, April 10, 2009

in which she gets all serious...

i keep thinking about the funeral we attended on tuesday. it was held in a little tiny church down on møn. or, more accurately, it was held in a little building on the church grounds that must have once been a stable, because magda didn't want to have her funeral in the church itself. she had said she didn't want to inconvenience god in that way.

the minister, a neat, athletic, small woman of the sort who looks like she rides horses regularly and spends a lot of time outdoors, gave a lovely eulogy, in which she addressed the question of magda's anguish over her non-belief. magda was seriously ill in the end, with cancer slowly taking over everything in her body. and when it comes to the end like that, people often begin to think about god. she had discussed with the minister how she had drifted away from belief. the god she knew growing up was a very judgmental, harsh, stern god. one who wouldn't tolerate people who didn't go to church every sunday. and it had been many years since magda had gone to church. so, magda didn't want to bother god with her funeral by having it within his house.

in some way, it's a tragic story, because if there was anyone who lived a so-called christian life--caring about her fellow humans, being kind and good and living "right"--it was magda. if there is a heaven, it's for people like her--genuinely good people who never say a bad word about anyone and live their life looking for the best in others. and not in a sycophantic way, in a genuine, real, honestly kind way.

denmark has a state church, which seems, rather than making people particularly religious, to make them feel that religion is taken care of for them and so people aren't rabidly christian like you see in the US. people may believe, but they don't engage in all of the outward trappings of belief, like attending church every sunday (tho' of course there are people who do that). they use the church at the big junctures of life--baptism, confirmation, wedding, funeral. i read not long ago that some churches were considering doing divorce ceremonies, to reflect the reality of life today and give people as much ceremony around breaking up as around getting together. that seems like a pretty radical step, but we are talking about a place where sometimes the ministers admit in public that they don't believe in god.

i talked with the minister afterwards and we discussed the issue of non-belief. from the words she spoke over magda's casket, she clearly dealt with the issue all of the time. and as she put it, god, as she saw him, isn't one to keep a book of how many times you go to church and he isn't one to turn you away in the end, or feel inconvenienced should you have your funeral in the church where you haven't set foot in years. those are human sentiments and god is purer than that--he just doesn't think that way.

i think that's a concept of god i could get behind, because especially in times of sorrow, we need to have some kind of belief, if only for our own mental well-being. in recent years, i've felt downright revulsion to organized religion as i watch the damage it does in the world--organized religions of all kinds, not just christianity. but i think that somewhere in my core, i do believe there's a higher, guiding force that gives this life we live meaning on some higher plane. at least i hope so. and if there's a heaven, i'm sure that magda is there, probably tending to the gardens.


Polly said...

This is a great post.
I come from the country that's 95% catholic. This means that if you live here, you don't question religion and God because it's simply a part of your life. But ever since I moved to the UK I started to doubt, I couldn't find a way to reconsiliate all the religions, each one of them thinking it knows the right and only way.

I'm not fond of organised religion because it so easily turns to fanaticism but I still go to church on Sundays to give expression to my belief that God does exist, that there is more to life than just earthly existence.

Only sometimes I'm worried that I'm not sure any more. Especially now, at Easter, when here in Poland all we can think about is resurrection and salvation.

thanks for this post, it made me think


Pattern and Perspective said...

I'm the same way and I live in the U.S. where we do have people who are overtly religious. I don't like fanatics, fundamentlists, etc. I like people who can be good human beings foremost, keeping their religious beliefs in their backpocket. I, too, think religion causes a lot of unnecessary violence in our world.

Meri said...

It's interesting that in your eyes, Magda's religious wonderings, and the views of the female minister that god is male. How much more approachable does god seem if she is a loving mother? For the story of one woman's journey through faith, try Sue Monk Kidd's Dance of the Dissident Daughter.

d smith kaich jones said...

"denmark has a state church, which seems, rather than making people particularly religious, to make them feel that religion is taken care of for them . . ."
Is that really a good thing? Seems odd to me - seems like the lazy way out.

" . . . and so people aren't rabidly christian like you see in the US." I can't respond to this because I'm unclear re: your definition of rabidly. Surely by that you don't mean just attending church every Sunday - nothing very rabid in that.

And ministers who don't believe in God? Not a church I'd be interested in attending - sounds more like just a bunch of people sitting around talking. And I am not a church-goer either. If I were, I'd sure choose a church with a minister who had faith; too whiny for me, too politically correct, and I'm not sure it's not done just to get some attention. All sorts of red flags start going up when I hear this.

My word verification is sissiness. Exactly.

:) Debi

julochka said...

this post was all about provoking wasn't to say that i agree or disagree, i just outlined a state of affairs.

and although the magda and the minister's gods are designated by "him" and "he," i am careful to say that i believe only that there's a higher guiding force. for me, that guiding force is beyond gender...

and debi--happy to wind you up, as always. ;-)


Char said...

I turned away from church for a long time because it got to be a competition on who did the most or was the holiest - I don't think that's what God is about. I think God is about love and faith .... I hope she found her peace and is at rest. Magda certainly sounds like she was well loved and loved well.

Just Jules said...

I love this post - I love the thought process it put you on. I am a very "religious" person, but rarely do I make it to a service. We bring our children to "Sunday School" to give them a firm foundation and the information I am not organized to compile for them. I however, am in total agreement that God is not concerned with your attendance of church or how much you donate to said facility... he/she is however concerned with how you live your daily life. It sounds as if your friend has it right.

As far as a male god.... I like your theory of a higher guiding force beyond gender - great way to explain it.

d smith kaich jones said...

:) Oh, I know! I can be just awful!!

I just couldn't get past the minister thing. It just feels so insincere, so "me,me,me,look at me". I would hope if I were in that position, I would have the courage to move on to another profession.

I am a very spiritual person, one who doesn't feel the need to have someone else do "it" for me - I believe, as you said, that there's a higher guiding force (and that is a terrific way to put it). However, so many do want someone there to lean on, and to have someone who doesn't even know what he/she believes seems quite sad to me. I have to wonder who pays these ministers' salaries.

:) Debi

hele said...

i'm going to remember the way that little building and your words seems suffused with a gentle light.

a beautiful post.

Sandra said...

I think this is a beautiful, intelligent post.

Bee said...

I'd like to think that that it is much more important to adhere to the spirit (as opposed to the letter) when it comes to Christianity -- or any religion, for that matter.

The other day there was a front-page story in my parents' pathetic local newspaper about an old man (and lifelong racist) who was asking forgiveness for his lifetime of egregious sinning against other human beings. My youngest daughter read the story, and her first response was, why should he just get off the hook because he invoked the name of Christ?

I'd prefer a Magda any day.

(The idea of ministers who openly admit to their own lack of faith is fascinating to me. An interesting cultural difference, for sure.)

This was a really thoughtful post, J.

et lille oejeblik - a little moment said...

amen to that, sister!

and from someone living in the middle east i'm especially with you on this part:

"in recent years, i've felt downright revulsion to organized religion as i watch the damage it does in the world--organized religions of all kinds, not just christianity."