It was my cousin Michael’s funeral yesterday. Michael was at the hub of my extended family, a man of immense heart and great generosity, and there were considerably more than two hundred people at the service. But then Irish funerals are always big affairs, involving the whole community.
Afterwards, as we stood together in a bleak, windswept graveyard, I found the words of the service particularly arresting. ‘Saints of God, come to his aid. Angels of the Lord, hasten to meet him,’ the priest intoned.
When Richard Dawkins, Fellow of New College Oxford and the UK’s Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, describes religion as like ‘sucking on a dummy’ he is displaying a pitiful lack of imagination. Religion is a precious repository of cultural imagery. A prayer is a piece of language that has been carefully constructed in the light of a tradition as old as mankind. To deride these things is to deny a part of our humanity.
As I watched my cousin’s body being lowered into that forbidding hole in the ground I imagined beings or another order, more elusive even than a Higgs Boson particle, imbued with a purpose more difficult to comprehend than multi-dimensional geometry, moving urgently towards the gate of death. And I was glad to be part of such a moving piece of spiritual theatre.