I have often been fascinated by the role of ceremony in public life. I believe that God hard-wired us to need and crave ritual, to be nourished inwardly by the observances that mark our journeys in faith and accomplishment. This is evident in the fact that even non-religious peoples find ways and reasons to create rituals. And empty as those faithless ceremonies may seem to us, they indicate a need in all of us to memorialize and reverence a part of the human experience.
I'm one of the ones who watched President Ford's funeral with an interest that stretched beyond his life. Events like these, infrequent as they are, are part of our national language, an illustration of our national character and how we as a people "do things." In her Friday piece, Peggy Noonan reminds us of why this is important:
We do all this to remind ourselves who we are. We do it to remind ourselves what we honor, and what we believe, as a nation and a people. We do it to remind ourselves that America yields greatness, that here a seemingly average man raised in decidedly average circumstances can become someone whose passing deserves four days of a great nation's praise.
Praising these things reminds the old of what it is we should be aiming for each day, and instructs the young on the elements of a life well lived.We do it to make the picture broader for a moment, and free ourselves of our cynicism. And we do it finally to enact what so many feel and rarely say, not only because it's corny but because if you mean it, it's beyond words.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the service and the surrounding flurry of activities was that they were a beautiful blend of what we as a nation wanted and needed to say about Gerald Ford, the man and the president, and an intimate portrait of what his family wanted and needed to say about him.
The other lovely thing that struck me about the service is how unabashedly Episcopalian it was. I say this not because I agree with everything Episcopalians believe or even with everything that was said during the service, but it is refreshing to see an unashamed presentation of treasured denominational rituals and beliefs, smack in the middle of the public square. No nods to a hundred different beliefs, no lopping off of the name of Jesus Christ so as not to offend the squeamish or the Muslim. The hymns of the faith were proudly, sensitively, and unapologetically presented as the postlude to the life of an ordinary man in an extraordinary capacity...a man who, through it all, lived and died an Episcopalian.
A nice reminder that in the politically correct melting pot there are still those who don't flinch at proclaiming absolute truth.