Funeral Homily for Barbara Losse

A Funeral Homily for Barbara Losse
Preached at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark.
The Reverend Tyler B. Doherty, Priest-in-Charge
Today we gather to celebrate the life of Barbara Losse—a long-time employee and friend to the Diocese of Utah, life-long Episcopalian, and cherished member of the Cathedral. Foodie, lover of family gatherings, Sunday New York Times crossword adept, Utah Gymnastics fanatic, movie buff, grammarian, and lover of literature Barbara will be sorely missed and her time among us was too short. You’ll notice as we move through the liturgy that the choir is singing a number of selections from the Sacred Harp Shape-note tradition. Barbara was a passionate lover of Sacred Harp music and I think it gives us a little window on who she was, her faith, and the invitation her life and witness extends to each of us.
Sacred Harp music is, like Barbara, well, singular and unique. It’s a tradition that originated in New England in the early 1800s and is characterized by its unconventional harmonies—parallel fourths, parallel fifths—that the established Western classical tradition frowns upon. The group usually sings in a square with the members facing each other. It’s a democratic and participatory tradition where each singer is invited to belt out the tunes called out in an unplanned fashion by other members. Anybody and everybody can participate, and the underlying ethos of the gatherings is that everybody needs to sing. We are built for praise. We are worshipping animals. We are made for beauty, to be made beautiful by participation in the new song God is singing in the person of Jesus. The song of no insiders or outsiders. The song of radical inclusion and indiscriminate hospitality. The song of unconditional love poured out, free and unmerited upon all of God’s creatures. The song of love, of resurrection hope, that is stronger than death.
The music itself is primal, raw, plaintive, and jarring at times to ears more used to the polished and practiced harmonies of a Mozart or Haydn. It’s rough-hewn. Unschooled. Brash. More like a freight train than a dainty horse-drawn carriage. Someone likened it “a capella heavy metal,” when I first encountered it. And people say when you’re singing it the sound comes up through the floor through your feet like the slowly rising, unstoppable floodtide of the Holy Spirit filling all things.
When I started reading the lyrics to the songs that Barbara loved so much, I was amazed to discover how much they focus on the hope, no, the unshakeable reality, of the resurrection, on the steadfast loving faithfulness and care of God for each of us no matter the particular situation in which we find ourselves. Take “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” for example.
I know that my Redeemer lives;
what comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my everliving Head.

He lives to grant me rich supply,
He lives to guide me with His eye,
He lives to comfort me when faint,
He lives to hear my soul's complaint.

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.
Every line of the hymn begins with “He lives…” and then goes on to explore the various implications of the Risen Life of Jesus almost as if the hymn is a real-time discovery of what it means to be an Easter people—in good times and in bad, in joy and sorrow, in sickness and in health, in life and in death. That’s the ground from which Barbara lived.
All of this got me thinking about Barbara’s life and witness. As someone who served the Church through its transition from a male-centered, priest-focused era into a time when the laity are held up as the first order of ministry in the Church—I see why Barbara loved Sacred Harp. It’s less rigid, less hierarchical, more adaptive, light-footed and improvisational than classical music. It even, heaven forbid, allows for mistakes, slip-ups, and flat-out blunders—everyone one and everything is welcomed in and blended into a brazen, thundering whole. Part of our job, if we are to learn from Barbara is to continue the work she began (not least in her long-time particiaption in and  assistance with Canon Nestler’s Utah Ministry Formation Program)—of each of us, warts and all, living deeply into our unique calling, vocation, and ministry as part of the priesthood of all believers.
For those of you who attend the Thursday Eucharist, you’ll recall that Barbara was our designated lector for the daily lessons. She’d amble up to the lectern, take a moment, and then in a powerful voice read the lessons for the day. She took it seriously, but not too seriously. If a reading from First Corinthians began with, “Now concerning virgins…” her inestimable chortle would begin to purr in the back of her throat and sometimes even blossomed into her signature belly-laugh spiced with just a dash of cackle. Alfred North Whitehead once said that the bible is the only book in human history with a singular lack of humor. With all respect to Dr. Whitehead, Barbara would heartily disagree.
That laugh. That mischievous sense of humor (I have a sneaking suspicion that Barbara was the one doing “rabbit ears” in class photos). That twinkle she’d get in her eye when she’d remind you that you were fooling yourself or being a little too precious. That willingness to speak her mind whether you wanted to hear it or not. All these speak of a kind of Gospel Freedom that gets unleashed in a person when they live from the resurrection, when the One Who Lives is the ground from which we live. “He lives and grants me daily breath;/He lives and I shall conquer death;/He lives my mansion to prepare;/He lives to bring me safely there.”
Barbara was a wonderful example of the paradoxical truth that more we give ourselves away and live from Jesus’ risen life, the more we become the unique, unrepeatable person God created each of us to be. Holiness is not bland cookie-cutter performance of socially-accepted forms of piety. Holiness is edgy. Holiness is what the love of God looks like shining through what George Herbert calls the “crazy” glass of our lives. Holiness is a whole-hearted acceptance of our foibles and quirks in the knowledge that God can work with us to do his work just as we are. When we get to heaven God won’t ask us why we weren’t more like Jesus or more like Moses, or Mary, but why we weren’t more like ourselves. If God wanted perfect he wouldn’t have started this whole business in the first place—a tongue-tied shepherd to lead the people out of Egypt? A young King with a wandering eye? Foot-in-mouth, impetuous Peter as the rock on which the Church is founded? Barbara’s unapologetic being of herself, her acceptance of God’s acceptance of her just as she was, is a sign for us that faithfulness, not perfection, is what God calls us to in this life.
Sacred Harp music is a reminder that beauty takes many forms. That we can miss God’s handiwork that is at the heart of each moment if we get too hung up on our ideas of what beauty, what God in Christ, looks like. Barbara’s life is an invitation to tune our ear to those strange harmonies of God at work in the world, the song being sung in the life of the risen Christ, that defy our expectations and settled conventions. Barbara’s life is an instance and an invitation to listen in a new key, a key where beauty in all its surprising and subversive guises that litters our days: like sidewalk bubble gum, like bus stop wild chicory, like Barbara’s cackling laugh. I’ll end with a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called “Pied Beauty”—another celebratory alleluia to all that is in all its variegated glory.
Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise him.
May the soul of Barbara and the souls of all the departed rest in peace.


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