Each year my brother Dan records and sends me videos of the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo. When those tapes arrive I pull the phone jack out of the wall, pour a double bourbon and immerse myself in Hawaii for several hours! In addition, each year Dan also records the Annual Lantern Floating ceremony for me and when that tape arrives then phone-jack, bourbon, immersion. Heaven! Ceremonies are a way of making a reality present for those celebrating it. To that end the Lantern Floating ceremony makes present to each other both the living and their departed beloved. This year some words of the commentator caught my attention, “The flickering lights of the lanterns symbolize the joyous exchange between our hearts and theirs”.
Hearing those words I immediately understood why I find this annual ceremony so moving! The purpose of the ceremony is exactly what our own parish celebrates on the last Sunday of each month! At the end of the Divine Liturgy on that day we conduct a memorial for our departed mentioning them by name (we are now up to 8 pages of names). Such actions are rooted in the belief that we and our departed are still in relationship to one another even though we live in two different realms of life! When our loved ones move into the next realm of their living it is helpful for us to remember that every ending is a new beginning to the next part of our life. To pray to and for our departed is a way of talking with them, a way of reminding them of our love for them in much the same way as when a teen moves out of the house and goes away to college! Our prayers are the equivalent of the phone calls and packages that we send to those away at school, in this case the School of Eternal Living!
For those of us still living on this earthly plane these memorials and ceremonies should cause us to question the way we live. Are we actually too afraid to live freely? Do our fears constrict our living? What would happen if we chose to stop being afraid, if we chose to stop giving in to fear’s control over our heart? When on the last Sunday of each month we in the Orthodox Community chant “Memory Eternal” for our departed we are also reminding ourselves that this earthly realm is only the beginning of living! Passing to the next realm is not the end of the line but a transfer to the route which takes us where our hearts yearn to be!