Something of eternal consequence had already started the day before Derry died.
As is customary in the weekly bible study at Faith, we take turns reading the scripture for the day. And we read that same scripture over three times, in the tradition of lectio divina – a meditative, prayerful approach to the bible.
I think I speak for everyone in that group to say that we all wanted Derry to read. He read well. Derry articulated the words with nuance and meaning. His deep, rich voice brought the scripture to life.
The day before Derry died, he attended our last session before the Christmas break. We were reading, as you can imagine, the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke chapter two. At the beginning of our time together, I asked Derry if he would read that scripture. But he needed more time to get settled, and he would read it later. “We’ll get back to you,” I announced.
But, for whatever reason, we never did. Whether it was the turn of the conversation, the character of the group that day, or innocent forgetting, Derry didn’t get his turn to read that day.
A couple of us reflected briefly on this over Christmas. And we felt badly that we missed an opportunity to honor his gift one last time.
In retrospect, it feels like unfinished business, something left hanging, incomplete. On this side of death, we can’t yet fully realize and appreciate what Derry’s gift of faith means beyond death’s door.
Last summer in my travels I found this quote printed on the window of a restaurant: “Life is not measured by how many breaths you take, but by the experiences that take your breath away.”
What are these experiences that ‘take our breath away’? When we behold something beautiful. When something outside of ourselves ignites and inspires something from within us, we taste glory. We are moved. Deep speaks to deep. Emotions, memories, feelings stir within us.
This is the purpose of art. The creative impulse is to fashion something material outside of us to reflect the beauty and glory within. Our outer world and its inner significance – those moments that take our breath away – come together with resulting joy and a sense of coherent beauty.
Art is not something that can be used. Its primary purpose is not functional. A sculpture cannot be part of a mechanism to make something work. Art does not bring water into a community, heat our homes, transport goods and services across the continent. Art isn’t meant to be a cog in the wheel of our economy. It’s not easy to make a good living in our culture doing only art. From this perspective, art is unproductive — even useless.
So, why do we bother to spend so much of our time in our flower gardens? Why do we exercise extraordinary patience in painting something that is called from within us? Why do we write poetry? Why do we travel across this globe to visit cathedrals and art galleries and artifacts that bespeak of unspeakable beauty?
Like a verdant garden bursting with variety and the fullness of life, Derry’s artwork was rich in diversity – sculpting, painting, ceramic and wood-carving and gardening. Derry’s gift of art not only reflect his astounding creativity but also the witness of one who reflected the light and glory of Christ to the world in his own, unique way. The ‘likeness of Christ’, we say.
Today is the church’s annual observance of the Epiphany. Every year on January 6th, Christians further contemplate the mystery of the incarnation, of word made flesh. During the season of Epiphany that follows, we discover again how God is made flesh in Christ, in the world today.
Whether we want to believe it or not, we reflect the light of Christ, the light even the darkness of death cannot consume. Today we stand in the shadow of death. We grope in the darkness of grief, trying to find our way forward but not sure because it is an unknown path. We mourn at this occasion of profound loss.
Yet, the light continues to shine. And what is more, that light shines within us. If Derry leaves a legacy, it is to witness to this light – the light of glory, the light of Christ risen, the light of life that is now, because of Christmas, in the world and in us. Second century bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, said that “the glory of God is the human person fully alive.”
Derry, in his artistic expression, was surely ‘fully alive’. We can trust this. We may not feel it all the time, especially in grief. But not feeling God’s light within us doesn’t make it untrue.
Derry was also a teacher. He taught many student teachers at the university. Derry teaches us something important about life and death. Derry’s teaching to us now is to witness to the glory of God, reflected in each one of us.
The darkness does not overcome the light. The light endures forever. In God’s reign, there is no unfinished business. Derry continues to bask in the light and glory of God’s eternal reign. Today, Derry deepens his connection with the Word, reading and living the stories of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. In this time, God brings to completion the good work begun in Derry’s life with us.
Thanks be to God.
 T. Paul’s Restaurant in Astoria, Oregon
 Psalm 42:7
 Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, January 1, 2018
 John 1:14
 John 1:5