Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Homily: Ben Bradlee Funeral [October 29, 2014] Washington National Cathedral


I cannot hope to add to the moving chorus of remembrance and praise we have heard this morning in memory of Ben Bradlee.  The range and depth of the remarks offered show the extent to which the nation, the world, his family, his friends loved, admired, and valued this remarkable man. In the role of preacher, there is not a lot I can add to these tributes.

But because I am a preacher, it falls to me to say a brief word about what Christian faith proclaims in regard to such a long, blessed, and accomplished life.  We heard three readings from scripture today.  We heard the words of Ecclesiastes telling us there is a season and a time for everything.  We heard from Psalm 23 the assurance of God's presence with us as we make our ways through life-- the valley of the shadow of death. We heard Paul's famous discourse to the Corinthians on the nature of love. Each one of these passages reminds us of the final assurance of Biblical religion--Judaism and Christianity in particular, but Islam, too--that human beings matter, that our lives and experiences, our joys and our struggles, are written on the heart of the one at the center of creation.

As I listened to these readings, though, a single phrase caught my ear.  Near the end of Paul's words on love, we heard this:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. [I Corinthians 13:12]

Most of us in this room are knowing, worldly types, and we live our lives thinking that we know what’s really going on.  But Paul suggests a deeper mystery about human experience:  in our earthly state, we only see "through a glass darkly".  We know the part, not the whole.  Our day-to-day lives are spent focused on the claims that tell us they are urgent.  We do not normally attend to the things that actually matter.

So we see things through a glass darkly.  But every once in a while, a person appears among us who allows us to see things more clearly.  In the dim light of day-to-day life, we don't see very well at all.  But then people come along, not very often but just enough, to point us toward what really counts.  These people are not usually conventionally pious, but they help us see things from God’s point of view.  They point us toward justice.  They point us toward compassion.  They point us toward truth.  They point us toward the sheer exuberance of being alive, of the breadth and depth of human existence and all its possibilities.

Without trying to sound sentimental in a way he would have found painful, I want to suggest that Ben Bradlee was one of these people. In his professional life, in his family life, in his friendships, in his role as a public figure and citizen, Ben Bradlee’s work and values and commitments helped us see through the dim darkness of our present moment into a glimpse of what life is finally all about.  For people of faith, the final truth about life and God and the universe and every one of us is embodied in the word love.  Love is acted out in close relationships as affection and in our social relationships as justice.  When we see through that dark glass we see a universe where power and violence and selfishness will always give way to love and justice and hope.

In his poem "Blizzard of One", the great American poet (and former Poet Laureate) Mark Strand says this:
From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed. That's all
There was to it. [Mark Strand, “Blizzard of One”]

When I heard of Ben Bradlee's passing I thought immediately of this poem--not only because it enacts an experience of plainspoken grace in an everyday moment.  I thought of it because, frankly, Ben Bradlee was a blizzard of one. A single human being, like a snowflake precious in his uniqueness, who went through life generating the energy of a snowstorm.  A human blizzard of life, love, energy, work, and charm.

I thank God for making, redeeming, and sustaining a universe in which love, justice, and compassion are finally the things that matter.  I thank God for sending us messengers who help us see through the dark glass of life into the luminous truth at the heart of the cosmos.  I thank God that our personal, public, and spiritual lives are knit together  in a single continuous fabric of love and justice and hope. In other words, I thank God for Ben Bradlee.  Amen.

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