On New Years Day 1940, when Lew was 16 years old, he and his brother tried to go ice skating. He wrote about it in his journal, “Mick and I endeavored to go skating this morning, but alas! we came home forlorn and defeated by a bitterly cold wind.” Not many 16 year old boys write like this, lyrical and poetic, but Lew did. He even spoke like that.
In my mind I hear his voice in dramatic tones saying, “I was forlorn and defeated by a bitterly cold wind.” Then he’d smile with a glimmer in his eye. That was Lew.
That day in 1940 wasn’t the only cold wind he faced in life. He braved other challenges. In his early years, he lost his mother at the age of four. In his final years he struggled with an aging body that was wearing out. Lew faced all the challenges in his life with faith, courage and determination.
Saint Paul compared the human body to a tent. He wrote, “If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Paul actually made tents and sold them for a living. It’s how he earned his room and board. He knew from experience that even the best quality tent only had a limited lifespan. The tent would wear out and need to be replaced.
As he worked making tents, Paul had time to reflect on our life in the body. The body itself is like a tent, fragile and temporary. Paul was also a Christian immersed in life in the Spirit. He had a deep conviction in the resurrection of Christ. He believed that when our tent wears out and falls down, God has prepared a new place for us to live, a permanent structure. It’s a “house not made with hands, eternal in heaven.”
Francis Hole was a soil scientist and lifelong Quaker. He said this about bodies: “Our bodies are disposable, biodegradable containers for Spirit.” This quote fits well with Paul’s image of the body as a tent. It’s a container for something else.
In the last few years, I have watched Lew each week as he came to church. I have marveled at his determination. He always kept moving, even though everything was so difficult. Walking into a restroom, going down a hallway, coming up for communion — all of these things posed great challenges for Lew. Every place he went he had to drag along his tent that was falling down. But he faced it all with grace and perseverance. Now he’s been set free from his worn out tent. He is settling in to new accommodations. In words from Paul, what was mortal in Lew has been swallowed up by life.
Peter Kreeft, a philosopher at Boston College, says that death wears five faces. Death is a Stranger who comes to us uninvited. Death is an Enemy who steals what is precious. Death is a Friend who relieves suffering. Death is a Lover who brings us face to face with God who loves us passionately. And lastly, death is a Mother who births us into eternal life.
Lew encountered death in all of these ways. But the last face, death as Mother, intrigues me most. Lew lost his mother at the beginning of his life. He gained a new mother at the end. This last mother birthed him into an unimaginable life, beyond anything we in our tents can dream of.
Everyone knows that we all die in theory, but they seldom believe it will happen to them personally. They’re usually shocked when it does. But for each of us, our tents only stay up so long. I look forward to when what is mortal in me is swallowed up by life. I look forward to joining my dear friend Lew in the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Amen.