Reflections on Life and Death
Pastor Joan Smith


What is the essential nature of this life and death we have the privilege and challenge of entering into -- and more important today, how might Helen's life, and death, illuminate our wonderings?

Helen's character was shaped in a crucible formed of her God-given qualities, the security of her family, the rootedness a town like Saxtons River provides, and a faith nurtured in her heart from early years. Her firm container gained strength and resilience during the horrors and contradictions of war. She was further carved and burnished in the tragedies and glories that her later family and community life provided. As Kahlil Gibran put it in "The Prophet", a space must be hollowed out in the heart by sorrow in order to make room for joy. As humans, we have some choice in whether that space is filled with bitterness or love. Your presence here speaks of the choice Helen made in this regard.

In fact, didn't we gravitate to Helen to be affected by her fierce grip on what was essential? It was sometimes breathtaking to experience her dismissal of the extraneous -- and yet reassuring to feel onešs feet hitting bedrock. It could even be intimidating, yet Helen's motive was never to belittle, but to illuminate. And she had her ways of remaining faithful, or full of faith.

Her anchor in you as a community was critical to her (Dot called her the mayor) -- being able to see the little brick house on the corner of Hitchcock Road where she visited her grandparents as a child -- being close to the house down the street where she grew up as Helen Buxton --and the homes of all of you whom she saw as her bulwark of friends, even family of the heart. This church, where she gazed down at the pews from the handbell loft to be sure all the hymnals were straight, sat for years like a rock in the pews emanating strength, fostered Monday morning coffee place that brought the wider community together to ponder the big questions, and in many leadership roles held up the importance of mission work in church life. As Rhoena said this week, Helen was a mission person, there's no doubt about that.

And Helen knew the transforming power of music and allowed herself to get lost in it. She had learned that music can hold everything, can transform and lift darkness into light again. Her faithfulness to good music was as much an expression of her choice for love over hardness of heart as her membership in this church. As Susie Peters mentioned, a memorial for Helen could simply be a concert.

But most essentially, Helen was a servant leader -- in the way that the prophet Isaiah spoke of the messiah being a servant leader. A woman with the intellect, character and skills to do many things, but choosing to serve quietly and faithfully where needed. I remember meeting her for the first time in the post office. Where are you off to, Helen, I asked. Oh, I am going to play cards with Mary Hepburn's aunt. She doesn't have too many visitors these days. And off she went, with the dispatch of someone who was on an important mission. And she was. Helen turned Mission Impossible into Mission Possible over and over.

When I saw her the day before she died, she spoke of feeling like Jobesse, a feminine version of Job. It occurred to me that a woman who had been through so much, and whose life flowed so naturally into being of service and drinking from beauty -- ..was not in need of the personal growth that might come from overcoming the challenges of convalescence. How far along in Job's story are you? I asked. "Oh, almost to the end of the book," she replied. We prayed together and I read her this poem, which I leave with you today,

Let Go, Let Go, Return.