The very last time I convened the Theology Tuesday gathering that met at the pub, a group for the college-age folk from the nearby university, I was all by myself. Others had said they would come by, but no one showed. It was just me, my pumpkin stout and my smart phone, waiting to have a conversation about the things that matter.
The group, never very big, had been dwindling. Some students had graduated; others were overwhelmed by studies or swamped by projects. Others had simply drifted away. And we hadn’t drawn in anyone new for quite awhile.
Was it me? As I sat alone at my little table, I wondered. In my early sixties, with graying hair and a pink body free of tattoos or piercings, of what interest was I to people just coming into adulthood?
There was no question that, in its flower, Theology Tuesday had changed lives. It had changed my own life. We had explored meaning. All those hungry young minds reaching after some solid value around which they could build their future had taught me that we all yearn for God. Always we yearn for God. And even where “Christian-speak”, which is so often used to batter and exclude, had become anathema, still the message of Jesus’ life and love transformed understanding.
But Theology Tuesday had, for whatever reason, run its course. Alone with my brew, I mourned its passing.
What was next? More and more I was finding that young people didn’t know the first thing about church or faith or Christianity. If they weren’t the sort to be drawn in by the more fundamentalist campus ministries, they had no notion of why they would want to become involved in talking about God at all. Having no knowledge of the Christian tradition, they had no idea why they would study the Bible or pray, and going to church was the furthest thing from their minds. Not even their parent’s generation were church-goers.
When my stout was gone, I walked over to the bar to pay my tab. A young man sitting there was speaking. His beloved grandfather was declining, and it was almost time for hospice. He didn’t know how to handle what was happening, how to understand death, how to deal with his feelings and those of his family. A couple of other young people commiserated, each having had a similar experience with someone they loved. “Here,” I thought, “is a portal.”
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus has said some things that are very difficult to understand. The story goes on to say, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
The words of eternal life do not disappear with changing attitudes about the practice of religion. They lurk at the center of all our questions. They inhabit those moments imbued by mystery and transition. They dwell in the ache of our hearts, the longing of our souls.
I am writing my own funeral service. When my friends and relatives attend to honor my passing, they will experience my last evangelical act. When I am beyond being able to testify to my relationship with God, this liturgy will speak for me in word, gesture and music. There will be a Eucharist, and of course everybody will be welcome to participate. At the end, unchanged, will be the commendation, a prayer that we could all say every day to express the profound joy of eternal life, of resting in God in the present moment, whatever that moment is:
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, Laurie. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.”
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.