Funeral Homily

1 Corinthians 15

The Spirit’s One Persistent Demand

A funeral homily for an elderly man who loved mechanical things

The Spirit’s One Persistent Demand
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-38, 42-44, 53-58

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

My introduction to Glenn Hayner came a dozen years ago.  He was one of the first Port Huron people I met.  Glenn and two others from this church traveled to Akron, Ohio as part of the search process that brought me to St. Paul’s.  After worship that Sunday morning, this threesome came over to the rectory for lunch with Cindy and me.  We enjoyed each other’s company so much that lunch did not end until past dinner time!

Some of you here today have known Glenn much longer than I have, or in deeper relationships than mine, but over the years I came to know him pretty well.  He would tell me of his days as a child in Lawrence Hall, an Episcopal home for orphans that now prospers as Lawrence Hall Youth Services.  He would also talk about his days as a young man in the Civilian Conservation Corps, where he worked as part of a crew in the wilds of Oregon, and we would claim that this country would be better off if something like the CCC were around today.  Glenn was proficient at savoring his good memories.

But what sticks with me about Glenn above all is how he would get excited about some wonder of nature or the way a mechanical or electrical apparatus worked.  These topics animated him in a special way.  There would be a glint in his eye and a new music in his voice.  Glenn would become the passionate teacher, an ardent advocate for his subject.  If the student were not up to speed at some moment, then his look became one of pity, even disappointment, the sort a music lover might have on encountering somebody totally deaf.

It was fun to hear him on those occasions, and like some of you, I learned from him then.  I learned content, but more than that, I was inspired by an attitude.  The word for it is wonder.

Here was something all too rare: a man, a responsible adult, somebody eligible for Social Security, whose sense of wonder was sharp, healthy because he exercised it regularly.  Nature’s marvels had his respect.  So too did that other nature which we call technology.

Once Glenn came to the basement of my house, a nineteen twenties structure on Military Street, to advise me about some electrical problem.  There he looked up to the basement ceiling and commented on the knob and tube wiring that dated from when the house was built.  He greeted this wiring with delight as though it were a long-lost friend, for indeed it was: when he started as an electrician a half century before, he worked with wiring of this sort.

Men he supervised at Muller Brass–maybe some of you here today–would refer to Glenn as “Dad Hayner.”  Anyone who knew him would recognize that the title was a fitting one.  He could be paternal in the best sense of the word.  At the same time, there was something child-like in his ability to delight in what many of us simply overlook.  Perhaps this sense of wonder is the most enduring lesson that he taught.

The sometime Dean of Westminster Abbey, Michael Mayne, tells us that “there is only one persistent demand made upon us by the Spirit.  It is that we are receptive.  That we keep our eyes open, our minds unclosed.  It is, in short, that we retain all our lives our sense of wonder.”   [Michael Mayne, This Sunrise of Wonder: Letters for My Grandchildren (Fount, 1995), p. 276.]

Certainly Glenn was obedient to this demand of God’s Spirit.  He kept his sense of wonder.  His mind continued to be unclosed, his eyes stayed open, even when his outer vision became dim, for there is an inner vision that optometrists cannot measure.  Glenn remained receptive.  For that we can thank God, and we can profit by his example.

Death has set him free from all that beleaguered him during his final years.  Now he walks free and unencumbered in the light.  Now he is enriched and nourished by a new awareness that continues to increase.  Now he experiences with a startling freshness that Love which sustained all the people and the places, everything of nature and of human contrivance that for more than eight decades of life brought him delight.  His vision, his sense of wonder, have entered into their fulfillment.

We honor his memory best, I think, if we choose to live a life of wonderment ourselves.  While we have time here on earth, we can recognize the splendor that waits for us in ordinary places.  For Glenn knew the truth contained in these lines from the poet Delmore Schwartz:

“. . .   If you look long enough at anything
It will become extremely interesting;

If you look very long at anything
It will become rich, manifold, fascinating:

If you can look at anything long enough,
You will rejoice at the miracle of love.

You will possess and be blessed by the marvelous blinding
radiance of love.

You will be radiance.”

[From Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon along the Seine,” in Delmore Schwartz, Selected Poems, Summer Knowledge (New Directions, 1938).]

Here Glenn looked long enough that ordinary things became rich, manifold, fascinating.  He looked long enough to rejoice at love’s miracle.

He has left to be blessed by love’s marvelous blinding radiance and to be that radiance himself.

  • Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.