Held in the Womb

February 15, 2021
Ultrasound photo of a fetus

We die a thousand times before our bodies expire and we rise after each one.

The womb is a place of nurture and growth, yet it is not a place that is free from danger and death. We know at the end of nine months, a baby’s time there has come to an end.

When a baby is in the womb, he or she or they hear rumours of what is beyond their wonderfully warm, nurturing, living space. When we were pregnant and the baby was unsettled and unsettling, I would sing him an old Gaelic lullaby in the womb and he would calm down and be at ease. He heard rumours from beyond and settled down knowing that, even beyond his ken, there lay a world that enticed him to be at peace. When the day came for him to exit the womb, he had to leave behind everything he knew, the place where he was nurtured, where he felt secure, and where his home had been for his entire life. Through a difficult passage and through a time that seemed forever, he died to everything he knew and was born into this world of which he had only heard rumours. Loving hands were here to receive him. Whenever he had difficulty settling, I would rock him and sing the same old Gaelic lullaby as I did when he was in the womb. He would quickly relax and fall into a peaceful sleep, hearing a melody from a home in which he no longer lived.

The Celtic liturgies describe the worship space as a womb. While there, we sing songs that unite us in a place and time beyond our present reality, either back into the past to safety and comfort or forward into the new reality into which God is calling us.

We approach death with the same attitude. We hear rumours of a world beyond our present reality.

The concept is that the soul is being born into a new world, just as a baby’s is at birth when we are there to be the loving, helping hands.

At death, the soul finds itself outside of its known reality and looks at its former home, the corpse, and fears that no one will remember it without the body. In the Celtic culture and in many others, we sit around the body and have a wake, a time to tell stories, to recount deeds of valour and deeds of mischief, and awaken the soul from death. The soul sees its friends praying for it, praising and thanking God, and at the same time, reliving the pranks. After three days (based on the Celtic belief that a cycle has been completed), the soul knows that it does not need a body to be remembered, for we live on in dreams and stories, so it is at ease. At this time, the congregation assists the soul on the next leg of the journey, the journey home to God from whence we came and whither we are travelling. The funeral service is all about commending the soul into God’s keeping and handing it over to God. The benediction that was said over the baby when they were baptized into the community, the first benediction, the Aaronic Benediction, and which had been said over the community Sunday after Sunday to remind us that we are baptized into Christ, is the last benediction said over a soul in this world and the first said over it in the world that is to come—a complete cycle.

At the end of the Womb of Worship, we are left with the earthly remains, which are then returned to the earth from whence they came. The journey is then over. There is comfort in these old rituals. Often, they lift us out of the moment of death and into a long stream of history.

In your community of faith, what is the theological underpinning of a funeral?