In over a quarter of a century of ministry I have consistently come into contact with funeral rites – the majority of which have been mono-chromatically uninteresting. For when a person dies the undertakers take charge, and the final journey is by hearse or limousine to a place of committal, accompanied by a small cadre of black-coated acolytes a few of whom, while all professional, look for the first opportunity to light a cigarette under a distant tree, out of sight of the mourners.
There are more fascinating rites in the world. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa it is customary to cut a hole in the wall of the house through which the body is removed. The hole is then sealed to prevent the deceased from remembering the way back to the living. Likewise the journey to the grave is done in a zigzag manner so the soul cannot find its way back.
Water is important in many traditions. In the Hindu customs of India the body is cremated on an open raft on the banks of a river, and then floated away. Native Hawaiians believe in water burials when the body or ashes are given back to nature via the ocean. And as for the Zoroastrians insisting on funeral rites involving water, sand, bull’s urine and the presence of a four-eyed dog (one with two dark patches above the eyes,) well that is another study in itself.
In gentler vein: I read that a funeral home in Eugene, Oregon, is now offering deceased cycling enthusiasts one last ride. A local funeral home offers what they are describing as “natural burials.” This includes a towed ride to a final resting place via tricycle as well as transport to the “great unknown” in a bamboo casket. The cost of these arrangements is $3,500, and for that money I hope that cycling helmets are included.