6 January 2001

Idlewild Presbyterian Church

Rev. Burton Carley

PRELUDE Prelude in C Major -- J. S Bach

Bob Griffith, Music Director & Pianist, First Unitarian Church


Let us join together in the opening words found in the order of service:

HYMN (standing) Ye Holy Angels Bright

We are told in the scriptures that God is love, and love does not belong to any particular denomination. We are living proof of that today. We worship with a Unitarian service in a Presbyterian Church, and are about to sing an Episcopalian hymn. This is what love does, the love that is God and the love that Rebecca shared with us—it makes the many one. Let us sing Ye Holy Angels Bright, found in the order of service. After the hymn we will read together a version of the 23rd Psalm used by a Jewish congregation.

READING (unison) Psalm 23

Out of the hymns of ancient Israel comes a song of trust that continues to provide strength to those in need. Join with me now in the translation of the Twenty-third Psalm found in the order of service. Let us read in unison:

PRAYER (Rev. Stephen Montgomery, Idlewild Pres. Church)


The Gift We Seek Today

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, and with the exception of Easter, it is the oldest festival of the church year. Among the ancient Greeks an epiphany was a divine manifestation. In the Eastern Church, the Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Jesus. In the Western Church, the Epiphany is devoted primarily to the visit of the Wise Men.

I do not know what Presbyterians do with Epiphany, but Unitarians do not celebrate the occasion separate from Christmas. It strikes me, however, that Epiphany is an appropriate time for Rebecca’s memorial service for two reasons.

First, because Epiphany reminds us that it is through the human that we view the divine. In this sense Rebecca was a manifestation of the divine to us, for she possessed the remarkable capacity of unconditional love. The word "epiphany" means to show, and she showed us in smiles and hugs and words and joyful play the power of love to heal and uplift and make the world glad at its presence. She incarnated the love of love.

Epiphany is also an appropriate time for her memorial service because as the Wise Men brought gifts to the baby of Bethlehem, we are in need of a gift. What is the gift we seek today?

The death of a child seems a violation of the natural order and may be the hardest grief to absorb and work through. This special grief is like a pebble dropped in water—concentric circles radiating from Ellen and Brig to include Polly and Walter, grandparents, and other relatives, caregivers, friends, colleagues and neighbors. The sanctuary is filled with you. The mind does not prepare for such a loss. There is the loss of not only what was, but of what might have been.

At this occasion, whatever words we say seem inadequate. It is such a hard thing we do today, seeking to redeem a sudden and tragic loss. When you are hurting, you want answers and you need reasons. And we come up with them, from the silly to the sublime. But the truth of the matter is that even good answers aren’t enough.

Even knowledge cannot save us. Oh, it may teach us much about he cycle of life from birth to death. It may offer to us the facts about disease and embolisms and the insight that nature is not partial to those we love. Even if in a thousand years all the secrets of creation were unlocked, science would not be able to explain what poets and artists express in their work. Or why a beautiful and brilliant fall day can move us to tears; or why we may hear music so lovely that we are overcome with some glory or sweet sadness.

No, knowledge is not the answer to our grief, the gift we seek today. This is because what we know is less than what we are. This is because you don’t stop the pain with reasons or even answers, even though they are helpful. They don’t get to where it hurts in the gut and the heart. That’s because the problem of suffering, of grief and loss, is not about something; it’s about someone—someone in your gut and in your heart.

The gift we seek today is not found outside of human tragedy, but comes to us from within it. I speak not about the consoling power of reasons and answers and knowledge, but about the work of love for that is how we redeem anything.

In his play about the tragic character of Job, Archibald MacLeish writes:

We are

And that is all our answer.

We are

And what we are can suffer.

But what suffers, loves.

And love will live its suffering again,

Risk its own defeat again,

Endure the loss of everything again,

And yet again and yet again,

In doubt, in dread, in ignorance,


Over and over

With the dark before,

And the dark behind it,

And still live,

Still love."

This work of redemptive love is the very essence of God--that transforming power which dwells within us and without. We are and what we are reflects the divine image. This is the essence of the message of John who writes: "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."

If John’s theology is too familiar to be relevant, listen to how Rebecca’s brother Walter articulates the same thing. In his sixth grade senior speech at St. George’s, Walter spoke to his classmates and the faculty about the Quality of Life. He defined the Quality of Life as "all things that make life worth living, for example…love is a quality of life." He later offered this bit of theology, we could call it the Gospel According to Walter: "I only find one difference between life and death. In life, God is in your heart and home, while in death, you are in His. God does not care if you are the richest person alive, of if you live to be one hundred. What matters most to Him is that you are kind and good. I quote from Patch Adams, ‘The real mission is not to prolong death, but to improve the Quality of Life.’" Walter, remember your gospel today. It is a gift to you. Remember that Rebecca fulfilled what matters most, and despite the brevity of her mission, she improved the Quality of Life.

And young Polly, you also have something to contribute today. A few years ago I used an essay you wrote in one of my sermons. Your assignment was intriguing. If you could ask three questions of anybody past, present or future, who would you ask and what would you ask them? The last question you asked was of yourself at the end of your life. It was: "What really mattered?" Now you have one part of the answer—you loved your sister well. In the end, Polly, that is what really matters, how well we have loved.

In our loss we grasp for answers and reasons, but in the end, as Paul says, our knowledge will fail us. The gift we seek is a response to the loss of what was so precious and now is gone. The gift is to love Rebecca even more, by loving life more, being more aware of life, of our relationships, of the earth. The task is to claim the goodness against the pain, to respond with faith "though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." The task is to accept the loss and still live, still love. Thus we honor Rebecca by taking her goodness and making it our own so that we can share it with others.

INTERLUDE Go Tell It on the Mountain

Eddie Hooker, Rebecca’s piano teacher


When I think of Rebecca a line from Walt Whitman comes to mind: "The sun bursts through in unlooked-for directions." Rebecca was the sun. She was constantly bursting through your life and from odd directions. She even came out of her mother’s womb turned the wrong way, with her eyes wide open, looking out in wonder and without a cry. That was Rebecca, on her own time schedule and not too terribly concerned about what others thought. She was famous for not wearing clothes and otherwise ignored the fine points of decorum. So what if she liked practicing the piano in her birthday suit? In her "All About Me" booklet from St. George’s Day School she completed the sentence "I like being a girl because" … "I am myself." Rebecca was uniquely herself. As her mother said, she was "a wild card from heaven."

I have an image of the wild card swinging on my favorite tree at the church, a beautiful Japanese Maple. I am very protective of that tree and have chased a good number of children away from it over the years. But there was something by little Rebecca that gave me pause and my bark would come out as a whimper. Ellen had my understanding when she told me that she had to remind Rebecca, "You’re too little to be in charge!"

Brig was always impressed by Rebecca’s dauntless spirit. At five she fearlessly climbed up into the tree house. Even the mystery and depth of the ocean did not discourage her. Rebecca loved swimming. She wrote in her little journal: "When I swim I am great."

Rebecca also continued the Klyce household tradition of intellectual and theological curiosity. Once she was brought to her minister for an audience after the worship service. There was a question I was supposed to clear up. So I bent down and she asked, "How did God make himself?" I took a deep breath, and said there were questions for which we had no answers. Rebecca took that in stride and asked a second question, "Well, where does God live?" Somewhat relieved, I responded that I knew the answer to that one. I said, "God lives in here," and pointed to her heart.

Certainly, Rebecca lived out of a heart of love. As her companion and caretaker Sheila said, "Rebecca was busy, loud and all love, the glue of the family." She was constantly giving expression to her love. She would offer seven hugs and seven kisses because she was seven years old. But even when she was younger, there was a loving concern that naturally poured out of her.

Ellen remembers reading Rebecca the story about a duck and her little ducklings. The mother duck had all her babies lined up behind her, and she called out to them, "quack, quack." Ellen asked Rebecca what the mother duck was saying to her ducklings. Ellen thought young Rebecca might say something like, "Follow me!" or "Stay in line!" Instead, she offered that the mother duck was saying, "I love you" to her ducklings.

For you, Rebecca Meriwether Cooper Klyce, we offer our blessings. We bless you that you have shared your life with us. You have taught us depths and truths that but for you we should not have experienced. Through you we have found insights into human hearts; we have been lifted above the commonplace. You, Rebecca, have given us the privilege of looking into life’s holy of holies. We bless you as you have blessed us.


Let us read responsively Some Things Will Never Change by Thomas Wolfe found in the order of service.


So it is that life ends, and life goes on. Much perishes, and much abides to have new life in the days and years to come.

For as much as the spirit of Rebecca dwells no more in its mortal form, we commit the body to the purifying flame, EARTH TO EARTH, ASHES TO ASHES, DUST TO DUST. We do so in the sure knowledge that her life continues in us. We do so in the assurance that even in this time of great loss and sorrow, life remains precious and good. Thus we would rekindle in our heart an appreciation for the gifts of life and other persons. The light of Rebecca’s life we now carry forward, as also others will pass along ours.


[The family will receive visitors in the T. K. Young Room on your right as you leave the sanctuary.]

And so it is that we affirm: Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…Love never ends…Faith, hope, love abide…But the greatest of these is love. Love has gathered us and love lets us depart with renewed faith and hope. Amen.

POSTLUDE Go Now in Peace (Bob Griffith)

Rebecca Meriwether Cooper Klyce