- Parish House
Funeral Homily for Reed Thompson
The Rev. Dr. Kate Alexander
I remember distinctly the first time I visited with Reed. We had only said hello in passing at the church, so I was glad for the chance to get to know this kind, soft-spoken man. His retirement was coming up, he said, and he wanted to know what I thought about a particular program in spiritual direction. He mentioned that he was in medicine, but his distinguished career as an ear, nose, and throat surgeon and then as a pioneer in Palliative Care was not on the list of what he wanted to talk about. That day, as in all of our subsequent conversations, we stayed on the topic he intended to discuss. Perhaps you, too, have experienced how intentional he was about such things.
He suspected that his becoming a spiritual director might raise a few eyebrows, maybe even some of the eyebrows here today. It’s not exactly a common next step after an impressive medical career. But it made sense as a next step for Reed. After years of caring for the human body, he was ready to turn his attention to the soul. I think that as a healer, he instinctively understood the interconnection between the two. This was not so much a career change as it was a change in focus, a new application of his skills to another part of the human person in need of a physician.
In Christian tradition, the relationship between body and soul has always been complicated. On the one hand, the body has a place of honor alongside the soul. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, in the body of Jesus. Our redemption comes through that same body that died and rose again. We are part of that very body. And yet, the body has also, at times, been seen as something of a hindrance on our soul’s journey to our eventual heavenly home. St. Paul struggled with how to understand this. In the reading we just heard, he refers to the body as a tent, as a temporary home until we reach our true home in God. Whatever afflictions we face in this life, he said, are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. Paul had a gift for putting language to the struggles of the body and what those struggles can teach us on our way to heaven. There is great comfort in this as we say our prayers for Reed today and trust that, whatever afflictions of the body he endured, he has reached an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
Yet, I think Reed of all people would remind us to look not just at the end of the journey, at what happened to the body, but to remember the whole journey. He and Rebecca chose the poem “Ithaka” for this service. It’s something of a hymn of praise for the whole journey. Ithaka is a metaphor for our final destination. As the poet tells us, “Keep Ithaka always on your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all… Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would not have set out.”
Having arrived in Ithaka, Reed has completed his journey. I do think he kept Ithaka always on his mind and did not hurry the journey. He sought all that the journey could teach him. He was blessed to travel as a husband, father, brother, grandfather, healer, teacher, and friend. One marvels at how many lives he touched with his gentle and determined spirit.
The way that Reed traveled can be a guide to us who are still on our journeys. His care for body and soul reminds us of their sacredness. Both body and soul are divine gifts. They are given for the journey, and received at the end into the eternal glory we share with the divine giver. I think Reed understood this deeply even before the end of his journey, and it guided his life’s work.
In our last conversation, the topic Reed wanted to discuss was dying. He said that he was not afraid. He was curious. Those are the words of one who traveled this life well, seeking all that it could teach him. I believe that he was ready to see what the final part of the journey would reveal. Not afraid, curious. Those are also the words of a gifted teacher and healer, guiding us as far as he could take us toward our eternal home.