A couple of weeks ago, I attended a memorial service for a friend at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, in Washington. The service, following the deceased’s wishes, was a liturgy of music, poetry, and prayer.

The first poem read was one that I had not heard for several years, and I was glad to hear it again. A priest at a former parish where I worked would regularly read this poem at the graveside following a burial.

I am standing upon the seashore.

A ship at my side spreads her white

sails to the morning breeze and starts

for the blue ocean.

 

She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until at length

she hangs like a speck of white cloud

just where the sea and sky come

to mingle with each other.

 

Then, someone at my side says;

“There, she is gone!”

 

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull

and spar as she was when she left my side

and she is just as able to bear her

load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

 

And just at the moment when someone

at my side says, “There, she is gone!”

There are other eyes watching her coming,

and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;

“Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

                                                -Henry Van Dyke

Only a few days after the memorial service, I was back home visiting family in Texas. One evening, I went out to dinner with some friends who had come down from Dallas. We chose a small honky-tonk type of restaurant in a rural community just outside of the small town where I grew up. The menu offered two options for dinner – Chicken Fried Steak or Hamburger. My steak was enormous and delicious (picture below)! As we sat there for a while, one of my friends, who was born and raised in Dallas, noticed that every time the front door of the restaurant opened, everyone turned to see who was entering. She commented that it’s a sign of a small community – people somewhat expect to see someone they know walk in. I’m thankful to have grown up in such a place.

On my flight home, I was thinking about both the first poem at the funeral and this restaurant observation. What would church be like if we looked at everyone who entered our doors with expectant hope? I love walking in somewhere and seeing someone I know, and I imagine most people do, too. Perhaps if we don’t want to be recognized somewhere, we shouldn’t be there in the first place? Regardless, greeting someone (whether a stranger or close friend) with a friendly smile and welcome is certainly a way that we, on our shore, can proclaim with a joyful shout, “Here she comes!”

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