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David Richen’s Memorial Mass – 2016

Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy 11-7-2016

“Oh dark, dark, dark.
They all go into the dark.
The vacant interstellar spaces – the vacant into the vacant.
The captains, merchants, bankers, imminent men & women of letters
All go into the dark…and we all go with them
Into the silent funeral.
I said to my soul, “Be still
and let the dark come upon you
which shall be the darkness of God.”

My brothers & sisters, the words are T.S. Eliot’s but the experience is each our own – you & I are brought together here this morning through the immense dark & painful mystery of the death of a soul brother, a friend, a father, a mentor, a beloved spouse. It is wrenching – human death – it is soul numbing – it stretches the mind out into cavernous darkness – and it breaks the human heart.

Eliot’s chiseled – sharp – edged words haunted me for days after David’s death. I was reminded only a few days ago that these were the verses that visited me 10 years ago at the funeral Mass of another soul – friend of David’s & mine – another consummate artist – the young Abbot Francis Kline.

What is it about great artists and their fascination with darkness?  To feel our way into this question I would suggest we simply look to this church; study this place where we are, at present, sitting. There is not a single extra; not a self conscious line in its design. But there is a “signature” – the architect’s signature – like the classical Sacred Icon writers – David has structured this church on the “Darkness – the Radiant Mystery – of God”.

Just notice, you cannot follow a single solid flat surface in this worship space without coming to a dark black recess.  David calls them reveals.  Like a truly mature artist, he is basically & structurally always challenging our fear of the dark. In David’s own words recorded by Mary Sue at his bedside at Hopewell House, he said, “In a sense this striving toward simplicity means that the ego is cast aside so one can touch the soul of or the essence of the project. This is hard to do. Simplicity invites one to let go of the ego in order to create a vessel whereby the essence of spirituality can be realized. This simplicity is at the core of my personal belief system.”

This is David speaking like a traditional Desert Father. Where the self conscious ego ends … there the Divine, Creative, Darkness begins … again in David’s own words: Simplicity invites one to let go of the ego in order to create of your life a vessel of deep receptivity. My friends, In this physical place RIGHT HERE – in wood & glass & color & tile – David has exquisitely articulated this Truth this core of his personal belief system. Again in his own words: “This church is the greatest expression of my soul and reaches the depth of my creativity. My spirituality has found expression here & it has affected my spiritual journey and served my passionate seeking of beauty.”

I am reminded of Paul in our second reading from Corinthians:

We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen
For what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal…
An eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

And so in John’s gospel this morning Jesus himself is speaking from a reveal & yes it is in this painful creative darkness – under the “shadow” of Jesus’ own death – that we hear these words of Light & Hope:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

The NT Greek word used here for “troubled” is TARASSO and it carries the sense of a deep- real-life experience of being thrown off your balance. It’s a powerful, haunting word … like a personal, intimate experience of dark mystery around the edges of your life. This same word is used in Chapter 12 of John’s Gospel when Jesus is deeply shaken by fear-anxiety around his own death.

“Now is my soul deeply troubled” Tarasso.

St. John repeats this word, very consciously, throughout his gospel because it wraps itself around each of our lives. This “ fear of the dark mystery”. And it is precisely by letting our hearts be afraid, by avoiding the reveals in our lives, that we end up, as they say, just barely breathing & calling that life. This fear, this running away from the Truth, fragments us – separates us from the most creative & gracious parts of ourselves & leaves us living pre-occupied lives – anxious lives, “hunters & gatherers” after security & therefore unable to really love, to really give ourselves away.

Notice our entire Gospel this morning is directed toward “disciples”. The whole text begins with the phrase:

Jesus said to his disciples

The earliest monks, taught that there were three levels of discipleship:
1) To gather together one’s life; to hold one’s life in reflective awareness.
2) To give one’s life away to others, for others.
3) The most mature level of discipleship: To give one’s death away.
What am I saying here? I’m saying David Richen lived & therefore died a mature Disciple of Jesus … and that’s what made him a Master Architect! Again, in his own words, just days before his death:

“My evolution in spirituality has assisted me to develop a vocabulary that guides my seeing as I design in order to integrate love of beauty into a physical manifestation.  I am very fortunate in that my life’s work is also my means of working through my own search for bringing about more beauty in this needy world.”

So that receptive vessel which the courageous authenticity of his own life formed, that Receptive vessel became, in his death, a vessel of Offering … this, my Sisters & Brothers is the “reveal” at the Heart of our Eucharist & it is the beating Heart of David’s Church.

And when great souls die, (writes the poet Maya Angelou)
And when great souls die,
After a period peace blooms,
Slowly and always
Irregularly. Spaces fill
With a kind of
Soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never
To be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
Better. For they existed…

+ Abbot Peter McCarthy

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