Saturday, April 19, 2014

Graves, Tombs, and Cemeteries

"Almost Sunrise"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

As usual, I am sitting quietly in my garden basking in the hope of daybreak. In the Christian calendar today is "Holy Saturday" - the day in which the body of Jesus lay dead on a slab inside a tomb. 

While it may sound somewhat somber and even a bit macabre, this day always makes me think about graves and tombs and cemeteries - my own eventual grave, the tombs of my loved ones, the graves in which all of us will eventually rest.  

Today I also think about that week I once spent living in a cemetery.

Several years ago, my wife and I accompanied our choir on a tour of the United Kingdom. The choir was to sing for a week of services at the ancient Anglican Cathedral in the City of Saint Davids in Wales. Since this "city" is really more like a small town with few hotels, we all had to stay in whatever little places we could find scattered throughout the region. 

My wife and I were booked into what was advertised as "a lovely little 'bed and breakfast' high atop a hill overlooking the Irish Sea."  And so it was - a quaint little 17th century cottage that did indeed overlook the ocean. What we didn't know was that this house was once the home of the graves' keeper, and it was located right smack dab in the middle of a centuries-old cemetery.

It was already night by the time we arrived. I can still remember the expression of horror on our faces when the cab drove up to a cemetery and somewhat sarcastically announced, "Here it is -your home for the week."  Then he unceremoniously dropped off our bags and nervously drove away. 

At first it was quite disconcerting and rather uncomfortable to look out of every window in the cottage and see nothing but acres and acres of tombstones and ancient graves. But we eventually got accustomed to our new, if not bizarre residence, and so unable to sleep, we decided to take a little adventure and go for a midnight walk among the graves. 

I remember that walk as if it happened yesterday.

It was a brilliant, bright night as we walked among the tombs glowing in the light of the almost-full moon.  Some of the graves were so old that the writing on the tombstones had been eroded by time,  others had been freshly dug. The sky above was blazing with stars. The ocean was gleaming in the horizon. We could smell the salt water and hear the waves gently pounding against the cliffs.  

And then in one magical "thin-place" moment, I realized that there was not a hint of fear in me, and I was overcome by a sense of deep peace. Standing upon the bones of the dead, I experienced an excruciatingly beautiful truth  - there is no death, only life.

On that midnight walk in an ancient cemetery, everything and everyone was swirling around us in a magical, mystical, cosmic dance and we were dancing along with it all-  a sweet communion, an eternal oneness. The bright moon and blazing stars, ocean and earth, those who had died, those who lived, those yet to be born -all flowing with a life that never comes to an end and cannot be snuffed out. 

The sun has just peaked up over the eastern mountains behind my house. It's going to be a glorious spring day- the Eve of Easter.

When I was a young man, I was horribly afraid of dying. Now in these later years of life, I am no longer afraid of my eventual grave. 

 Everything and everyone dies, but nothing ever stops "being."


  1. Yep, no need to fear death. Fear how you get there should be more of a concern.
    Graveyards are the most peaceful of places. Not too many people have malice thoughts when entering one and most people are humbled and pay respect. I'm glad you got over that phobia. Hope you and yours have a happy Easter. Mike