Regardless of whether one is deeply religious or a convinced agnostic - life still gives us the opportunity to witness or participate in religious ceremonies.
For me, this meant the church service on Christmas Eve in my childhood. Spending time with family and good friends. The memories of those who were no longer with us were kept alive, precisely because we remembered them from those holidays.
But there are other religious ceremonies that also create memories. Some good and some not so good. Each of them represented the crossroads in my life.
The first occurred during the Lebanon invasion in 1982. A terrible war that destroyed a country and affected people for many years afterwards. One of those who had his life completely changed was Erling Robert Ekrheim. A guard soldier who was standing on a roof in the small town of Ebel Es Saqi and fell victim to a failed grenade launcher.
The battalion’s field chaplain sat in the boys’ bomb room all night, while the bombs hailed and everyone had enough with their thoughts about the loss of a good friend. In retrospect, I have often thought that the field pastor’s memorial service that night was important to those who sat with him.
My second ceremonial event I experienced, happened on a tragic night on the Greek island of Lesvos. It was February, storms and several people had drowned during the night.
The boat we received had salvaged well. 50-60 people flocked ashore. Some cried, some smiled, most of them were quiet. After a while, when people had found their relatives and taken care of their children, they arranged a prayer meeting.
Fifteen, twenty people knelt in the direction of Mecca and as the morning dawned, they followed the scribe and said their prayers. Thanked their God that, after all, things had gone so well with them. We who witnessed it all felt a strange and strong respect for the beliefs and convictions of these people. And in a strange way, we felt a sense of belonging.
Beaches of Lesvos 2016-17
My last experience of a religious ceremony was at my own mother’s funeral. She died after a long and arduous life. Not necessarily in the belief in a God, but in the belief that she would meet her mother, my grandmother again.
Grandma passed away at a young age. This was at a time when mental disorders were not defined as real disorders. Grandma had postpartum depression and took her own life when mom was 12 years old.
The last time my daughter and I were with her, I noticed again the painted portrait of Grandma hanging on the wall behind my mother’s bed. Every time we talked about it and commented on the beautiful woman who looked calmly down at us from the wall, mother began to cry. She missed her mother. Every day, every year. Ever since she died.
We communicated this to the pastor of the congregation who listened patiently to us. He embraced the story of mother and grandmother and the longing and the grief she had and held a beautiful moment of remembrance for her.
And again I was gripped by the same sense of belonging that I had felt both in Lebanon, on Lesvos and now, in the church of Leinstrand, where my mother was to be buried.
Fast forward to november 2021
Ceremonies are important. As vulnerable people, we are always looking for something (or someone) that can show us the way in a turbulent landscape. A long life has taught me that religion in itself never creates unrest – the delusion of individuals takes care of that matter.
Have a peaceful weekend.