Words For The Wind

Dear Friends,

Historically, cremation has been a widely used and accepted practice for the final disposition of the human body from the origins of human presence on this earth.

It was not a universal practice by any means and as cultures and peoples became less nomadic and what we might call religions began to develop, theological considerations caused some cultures to prohibit cremation and other cultures adopted cremation as the only legitimate final disposition of the body,

Cremation of the body at death in the west after Christianity/Catholicism became the dominant religion was generally prohibited but cremation gradually took on the form of a public political act of protest against the Catholic Church.

In principle the protest was against the belief in the resurrection, but in practice people opted to have their bodies cremated for various reasons that revolved around anger and resentment toward the Church that quite often were legitimate protests against the Church’s abuses of power.

The church responded at times in a kind of tit for tat by digging up the buried corpses of the relatives of folks who had their bodies cremated and had them burned to ashes signifying that their relatives would not be a part of the general resurrection at the “end of the world”.

So there!!!!!!!!

In the late 19th century Christianity was pretty fractured and Catholic Christianity had pretty much isolated itself from the rest of the culture but non-Catholic Christian churches were more in sync with a wider world view so they changed the prohibitions against cremation for practical rather than religious considerations primarily the lack of space in overcrowded cemeteries to bury intact human bodies and the realization that some diseases and pathogens were making their way into wells and other underground water sources in congested and densely populated cities.

Since 1963 cremation has been a lawful and more widely accepted final disposition of the body for Catholics with the result that increasingly Catholics are choosing cremation over in ground intact body burials.

In my observation, thinking and practices about death and final disposition has changed, in part, in my opinion, because of the diminishment of the significance of the role of religion and religious traditions in western cultures.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC has become a sacred place in its own right without the overt sponsorship of religion or government, for instance.

The initiative that inspired the idea, and finally the reality, came from what I call the underside as opposed to the top as is typically that case with “war memorials”. The Wall as it has become to be known, carries much more weight and significance than the indication of a death and the potential final disposition of a body.

In many cases there were no bodies and, unlike in the European wars of the 20th century, the idea of a victory in Vietnam, was challenged, and we did not create cemeteries in Vietnamese territory to inter our war dead as we did in Europe especially France and Italy.

The World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan with water running symbolically into the depths of the earth in a similar fashion has become what I call, a “sacrament of vulnerability “in what many believe to be the most powerful and modern of world cities not unlike the memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The attacks of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and over the fields of Pennsylvania introduced us to a radically different understanding of war and the agonizing reality that with few exceptions there were no bodies to designate with a final disposition.

At the same time, many Americans are committed to find the places of final disposition of the bodies of their African ancestors brought to this country as slaves. The interest in theist so that they can give recognition to the fact of their existence and their significance as human persons.

The feast of Easter gives us cause to think about the reality of human death and the significance that death occupies in our society.

Funeral directors will tell you that the nature of their business is changing not only in economic terms but in terms of the services they provide and how they provide those services.

Many funeral homes deal with the new problem of what to do with the many cremated remains that remain unclaimed by family members.

Cursory readings of newspaper obituaries indicate that there is a growing number of people who chose to have nothing to mark their death as we read. “As per the wishes of the deceased there will be no funeral services” or that “celebrations of life” will occur at social or fraternal venues without recognition that at the heart of a human death there is a corpse with the tragic exceptions mentioned above.

Not that I think people should be pre-occupied with their deaths or the final disposition of their bodies but in my experience with funerals in recent times and in conversations with my young friends I often detect a conscious choice to not consider either the reality of death or the final disposition of human bodies because there is nothing, in their minds, that happens other than they die and so what, “stuff happens”.

It is not uncommon that adult children and grandchildren do not want to actually see the body of their parent or grandparent in an open coffin.

Among young people there is what might mildly be called a fascination with video games based on killing and The Walking Dead among other fantasies that are based on, one might say, even, obsess on death.

And then there are many people like me addicted to British and European crime procedural television series and books that are centered on one or more violent deaths.

I offer no conclusions just some words for the wind.

 

Peace,

Father Niblick

 

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