Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
Br. Andrew Colquhoun's funeral – Sunday, May 31, 2015
This is a day of powerfully mixed emotions. We remember the life of Br Andrew – and that is a joyful occasion. And at the same time we say goodbye to Br Andrew – an occasion of immense sorrow.
Andrew was, like any true Scotsman, a teller of stories. And one of the stories he loved to tell was the way in which he entered Holy Cross Monastery. He'd been coming on retreat with increasing frequency and each time he came, he found it harder to leave. At some point he was really agonizing as he went up the driveway and this thought went through his mind: “You don't have to go... You don't have to say goodbye.” And so he discovered his monastic vocation.
This story is in my mind because, just as Andrew hated to leave the monastery, I hate to see him go. But in some sense he still doesn't have to go. Andrew remains with us in spirit in a very real way. Our task is to remember him in loving and honest ways so that his spirit remains with us. And I can hear Andrew saying if don't tell the truth, I will haunt you... So lets begin the remembering...
Andrew's life was complex. Anyone looking for linear story telling should not look to Andrew. He was born in Scotland as the 2nd World War was starting. His father died when he was a young lad and his mother determined that their future was brighter in the United States – so they boarded a ship and sailed for America. Andrew completed his education in the US, including college and seminary, and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church. But his believed his heart was in Scotland and so, as a young man, back he went.
He served in Edinburgh at the Kirk of the Canongate. Anyone who has visited Edinburgh will likely have walked past this historic church. It is about half way between the castle and the new home of the Scottish Parliament. These days the neighborhood is posh beyond words, but in the 1960s it was grim. This was Andrew's first adult encounter of true poverty and it inflamed his passion for social justice.
It was also at this time that Andrew met Helen and the two were married. They moved first to the south-west of Scotland, but then Andrew had to deal with the reality that Scotland was not his home. And so he and Helen emigrated to the US – Andrew was always quick to point out that he was the only person he knew who emigrated twice...
Andrew served in a number of Presbyterian Churches and two sons, Rob and John came into Andrew and Helen's lives – but Andrew became increasingly aware that parish work was not where he was called and so he began the transition to Hospital Chaplaincy and undertook the training to be a Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education. You see how cluttered the story is already... we're just getting started...
The work of Clinical Pastoral Education begins with learning about yourself. You must know yourself very well in order to be able to help others. Andrew, never one for half measures, delved wholeheartedly into this work. And he learned powerful things. Among other things, he learned that he needed to get sober. And he learned needed to come out. And he learned he needed to become an Episcopalian. I'm certain that for Helen, Rob, and John, who were with him on this journey, it was a complicated and painful time – but ultimately grace-filled.
Through the various pieces of Andrews life so far – emigrating, changing careers, getting married and starting a family, getting sober, discovering himself, ending his marriage... one thing becomes clear: Andrew gave his heart away many times, but more importantly, he never took it back.
Andrew gave his heart to Scotland and, though he emigrated not once but twice, he never took it back. He gave his heart to Helen and, even though the marriage was dissolved and they got on with their lives, he never took it back. He gave his heart to Rob and to John and though I know the path from childhood to adulthood is complicated and rocky, he could not have been more proud of the adults his sons have become. And Ian, his grandson, well there wasn't anything on earth Andrew loved more than being a Grandfather... Andrew gave his heart freely and totally and he never took it back.
Andrew, in the fullness of time, fell in love with the Order of the Holy Cross and Holy Cross Monastery and gave his heart to us. And so began a new adventure. Andrew was always a man of deep passion and his anger could be quickly roused. When someone was being ill-treated, Andrew's fire could burn. When someone was being irresponsible, Andrew's tongue could lash. Andrew could give the Old Testament profits a run for their money when his righteous anger was stirred. And in the monastery he found a home for his passion.
But lets be honest... Andrew's passion could be just as quickly stirred and his tongue just as sharp at a jar of peanut butter left on the counter... or a coffee cup left on an end table... an indignant and self-righteous rant was sure to follow. And Andrew's humor, always sharp and frequently outrageous, could slip from biting to brutal. And when his humor had been cruel or his righteous anger unrighteous, just as quickly, an apology would follow. And this is another fundamental piece of who Andrew was – he did not leave things unsaid.
Truth came quickly from Andrew's mouth. And when he regretted what he said, or how he said it, apologies came just as quickly and they were very real. The Rule of Benedict tells us not to go to bed carrying angers and hurts from the day. Andrew, to the very best of his ability, lived this. So while his death leaves many hearts broken, few are left with unfinished business. Andrew loved enough to tell the truth and hear the truth.
Andrew spent much of his monastic life in South Africa – yet another migration and another great adventure. He was instrumental to the forming of a new community in Grahamstown and he gave his heart, as was his custom, to South Africa, and most passionately to the children who gathered around the monastery. These were kids who's home life was frequently terrible. Poverty and alcoholism, which seem to walk hand in hand, had left their families in tatters, and so Andrew gave his heart to loving these kids and to helping to bring others to the work of sobriety – and as we know, once given, he never took back his heart.
We really couldn't remember Andrew without thinking about music and laughter and the warmth of true hospitality. He loved a crowd – because he loved the people in the crowd. Since Andrew's death I have been quite startled by the number of folks who have said the same thing... I was in some sort of trouble and Andrew knew what to say... I was sorrowful and Andrew knew how to comfort me... I was on the wrong track and Andrew told me the truth I needed to hear to get myself turned around... These were not long, massive, deep conversations, they were casual, over-the-dinner-table, in-a-crowded-room sorts of conversations.
Andrew loved people. At the same time, people frequently drove Andrew crazy... he did not suffer fools gladly. And many is the time when he told me how out of patience he was for so-and-so only to sit down a little later with that same person and have a life changing conversation. I'd tease him and say – I thought you couldn't stand that person... and he'd smile and say something like – well I got over it...
I know this is a room filled with loving memories of James Andrew Colquhoun. We say goodby to his incarnation, but not to those memories... not to his spirit. And at the conclusion of this service, as we place his ashes in the columbarium in our crypt, I hope you will stay and share some memories and some refreshments... Andrew would love that. And more importantly, Helen, Rob, John, and all of Andrew's brothers in religion would love that too.
Throughout our Christian tradition and long before, spirit and breath were understood not just as closely linked, but as the same thing. So in Genesis, God breaths on us and we become living souls. And Jesus breaths upon the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit.
Andrew was, more than just about anyone I have ever known, a person of great spirit. And so it was all the more painful to watch as Pulmonary Fibrosis claimed his life – a disease which literally takes the breath from you. And in the last few months many of us have watched as day by day there was less breath, less spirit in Andrew. And Andrew, who as we know did not leave things unsaid, made it abundantly clear that this was not a way he could live.
I truly don't think this was just Andrew being concerned about quality of life – though that was part of it. I think it is more that Andrew could not live this way, rather than he would not. Andrew's spirit was huge, fun-loving, justice-seeking, judgmental, loving, angry, nasty, outrageous, boisterous, perhaps occasionally obscene... the list goes on and on... He he could not live his life otherwise.
As Pulmonary Fibrosis restricted his life to less and less – because he could not get enough breath to do things – he still found joy in living. He remarked to me not long ago that people would be shocked if they knew how many different women he had showered with in the past few months... I doubt I could have faced the reality that I could no longer even bathe myself with such good humor. But Andrew, characteristically, chose to give his heart to the aids who came each morning to help him – he welcomed them with love and gratitude. And finally, he welcomed death with love and with gratitude. For now his spirit is set free.
I hope you will help us celebrate who Andrew was and who he is. Perhaps in story, perhaps in song, perhaps even with dancing... who knows. But I do know that if we celebrate joyfully and remember truthfully, then Andrew will be honored and we will be blessed.