Monday, September 30, 2013

The Wide World of God's Glory

Today my family celebrated the life of my father, Richard Donald Leggett (25 IX 1928 to 22 IX 2013), with a requiem eucharist and burial in the columbarium at Saint Michael's Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs, where my parents have been parishioners for fifty years.  The Rev'd Peter Floyd, the Rector, presided and I had the honour of preaching and of committing my father's remains to their resting place.  He was buried with military honours as is fitting for a veteran who served his country in war and peace quietly and faithfully.

Click here to listen to my sister, Nichola Anne (Leggett) Moore, offer her thoughts on this occasion.

Click here to listen to the e-mail message sent by my younger son, Owen Thomas Porter Leggett, whose words express the thoughts of his siblings, Michael David Porter Leggett and Anna Frances Porter Leggett.

Here is the text of my homily on this occasion.

A Homily for the Funeral of Richard Donald Leggett
30 September 2013

Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church
Colorado Springs CO

Readings:  Wisdom 3.1-5, 9; Psalm 23; Romans 8.14-19, 34-35, 37-39; John 6.37-40

+ My sisters and brothers,
may only God’s truth be spoken
and may only God’s truth be heard.  Amen.

         Before I begin my reflections I thank the people of this Parish for their support given to my family over the fifty years we have been members.  Your many kindnesses during my father’s final years will not be forgotten.  I am particularly grateful to Fr Paul and Nancy for your pastoral care and the friendship you have shared with my parents.  Finally, I thank Fr Peter for giving me the privilege of preaching this afternoon and to bury my father’s remains.  I ask his forgiveness if I should say anything that contradicts the view of the ‘local management’.

         When my family and I gathered with Father Peter to plan my father’s funeral, one of the first decisions we needed to make was to choose the readings from the Scriptures we thought would be expressive of our faith, our feelings and my father.  Although I have been through this many times with families, it was the first time I have participated in making these choices for a loved one of my own.

         As we were reading through the suggestions in The Book of Common Prayer, one reading immediately caught the attention of my sister and, without further ado, it became today’s first reading, a reading from the Wisdom of Solomon.  Some of you may have heard it before, but I want to set it in its original context before I say anything else.

         Two thousand years ago the city of Alexandria was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Mediterranean world.  Some of the most important philosophers and theologians of the Jewish tradition made their home among the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and all the other peoples that travelled the ‘Middle Sea’.  For the most part the various communities lived in peace, but in the century before the coming of Christ, civil strife raised its ugly head.  Both Greeks and Egyptians took out their rage on the Jewish community and within a few decades the Jewish community declined to almost non-existence.

         It was during these troubles that a Jewish writer put pen to parchment and wrote the words we heard read today.  The world of his youth had been broad and deep, a community in which all the mysteries of the ancient world were examined, debated and sifted for their meaning to faithful people.  Now he looked upon a community in ruins, his own world smaller than the one in which he had grown up.

         Yet even in this moment of tragedy, the disaster which prefigured all the future assaults upon the Jewish people, the author can offer a word of confident hope regarding those who have died during the riots.  He even dares to proclaim his hope that, at some future day, their world, their beautiful wide and varied world, will be restored.  In verses we did not hear earlier he writes that “(the righteous) will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.  They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever.” (Wisdom 3.7b-8)

         My father was born and raised in the upper Hudson Valley of New York State where my ancestors moved from Long Island in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  He was surrounded by the forests and mountains of the Adirondacks where he and his friends hiked, camped, fished and hunted from childhood.  His world was a wide world and he learned early on to fend for himself.  My grandfather was a professional gambler and my grandmother ran a boarding house for the trainers and jockeys who came to race at the Saratoga Race Track.  But in the fall and winter, my grandparents would often travel to Florida to follow the gaming crowd, leaving my father alone to take care of himself.

         High school graduation behind him, my father travelled to Chicago where he studied for a time at then-named Illinois Institute of Technology.  For financial reasons he left the Institute to enlist in the Air Force, hoping to become a pilot, but, having failed the physical for some very small reason, he became a graphic artist and was sent to England where he met my mother and they married.

         The Air Force, in its wisdom, did not honour my father’s request to be re-assigned to one of three bases in New England.  Instead, he with my mother and me was sent to Colorado Springs in 1954 where, with the exception of three years in German in the early 1960’s, he lived for the rest of his life.  It was here that my sister was born, one of those very rare native Coloradans. 

         Those of us who are married and who have children know that, in some ways, our worlds become smaller with the responsibilities that families bring.  Certain choices are no longer options for us because our families need security.  For some of us the world can become confined to our workplaces, our homes and our vehicles, especially our vehicles, as we transport children from one place to another, one activity to another.  Financial obligations outweigh the occasional desire to leave everything behind and fly off to the South Island of New Zealand!

         But even as I was growing up, my father kept his world as large as possible.  My childhood was spent more in the mountains than in the car, more often than not, Saturdays were spent in South Park or in the prairies east of the city hunting for arrowheads and the like.  From my earliest years I can remember the quiet excitement that accompanied the arrival of the National Geographic with its stories and photographs of a world far beyond my boyhood horizons and the Scientific American with its essays about the world of ideas and American Heritage with its exploration of the American experience.  But as much as I loved these windows into a wider world that came into our home, it was my father who loved them, perhaps even more than I.  They were his windows as well, windows that gave him a broader horizon than the day-to-day demands of being a husband, father and member of the Armed Forces might seem to permit.

         He shared this love of a wider world of wonder not only with his own children but with the children of others.  Few here may know that my father was one of the founders of Troop 66, the Scout troop housed here in the Parish.  Even fewer may know of the years he spent working for my mother with pre-schoolers and school-aged children in summer day camps and trips into the mountains.  My father’s world was wider than the prairies that reach out to the east and taller than the mountains we see from the window behind the altar of this church.  And it was a world that he wanted to share.

         In these last five years my father’s world began to diminish.  Trips to visit his grandchildren in Vancouver were fewer and farther between.  Fishing with his friends and family became more distant hopes.  And month by month, the circumference of his world became more and more defined by the walls of our family home, where he and my mother have lived for fifty years.  I know that this troubled him, because almost every visit I made and every telephone call we shared included at some time his disappointment at not being able to travel and his worry that he would not complete his great work of exploring the history of our family over the centuries.

         In his papers my father left some words he wanted me to share with you at this time.  He wrote

         Jane and I have been blessed with (sixty-one) years and we have many times said that if we had to, we would do it again, maybe a change here or there, but few.  I feel that a lot can be attributed to our friends and family.
         I hope I’ve left a legacy.  I think so.  My children, grandchildren and (great-grandson), yet to make his name.  The Leggett genealogy and the Scout Troop here at St Michael’s, and I often overlook my painting, though I paint a few pictures a year, five to eight; they’re all gone, so there are people out there who appreciate them!
         I have left this world with no regrets or fears and with the words of a well-known Christian carol in my mind and heart,

[Where children pure and happy, pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the Mother mild;
Where charity stands waiting] and faith holds wide the door,
the dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
and Christmas comes again. [1]

         Take care and the peace of the Lord be with you.  Dick.

         My friends, my father knew what the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon knew, even as they both looked at lives that seemed to have shrunk from their youthful dimensions.  From the beginning of creation God set us in the midst of a wide and wonderful kosmos, if we have the eyes to see it, the hearts to embrace it, the faith to venture it.  It is perhaps one of the greatest human tragedies that some people live their lives narrowed by their fears and doubts while other people spend their lives trying to constrain the lives of their neighbours.

         Today, my friends, you and I celebrate our faith in a God whose love cannot be constrained, even by our physical suffering and our own deaths.  We give thanks to God for my father who sought, as best as he was able, to live a life full of wonder in God’s world and to share that wonder with others.  His journey in time and space has come to an end, but, as Paul writes in Romans, “. . . the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8.18)  Today we give thanks that the boy who grew up in the wide world of the forests of the Adirondack Mountains has an even wider world to explore.  For this I can only say, ‘Thanks be to God’.  Amen.

[1] Verse 4 of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ which is frequently omitted.  My father only quoted the section beginning with ‘and faith . . . ‘ but I thought that the whole verse was necessary.

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