In memory of my grandfather, Robert S. McCombs

In celebrating Discardia this time I was going through some old boxes, finding things that can be discarded and re-discovering things that are important and which should never have been buried in a box.

These words, which I spoke at my beloved Grandpa Bob's funeral in the Wasco Methodist Church almost eight years ago, were in a old notebook I just opened at random. I thought I'd lost them or destroyed them in a moment of grief. I am so glad they were just a temporary victim of conquerable clutter.

When I was a child Grandpa Bob and Grandma Susie would bring me to this church, both for services and – to me more exciting – on church business at other times when I would get to play and explore in the Sunday School rooms and Epworth Hall while they did their grown-up things. Since then I've been to many other lovely places, even heard evensong in Canterbury Cathedral in England, but this remains for me the most beautiful church in the world.

I know that Grandpa loved it deeply too and felt proud to introduce me to it. Now he could have made a big deal out of that introduction, but he didn't.

One of the things about him which I most treasure, one of the best lessons he taught me, is that reverence and human nature needn't be at odds. When I was small, sermons were longer, by far, than my attention span. I suppose, by shushing and scolding, I could have been forced to suppress the outward physical signs of my mind wandering, but I suspect that the strongest lesson I would have learned in church might then have been how to pretend to be engrossed in something I didn't understand.

Instead of teaching me that lesson, my Grandpa Bob taught me a much better one: he taught me that inspiration comes to us not by straining but by relaxing and perceiving. And he did it in the most relaxed and intuitive way, teaching by doing.

He knew that inspiration, great and small, can come to us at any moment and so he kept his eyes and his mind open – and he kept a pen and some 3 x 5 index cards in his shirt pocket so if it did come he could write it down and remember it even if he had another dozen minor epiphanies on his way out the door!

When he took me to church, to this beautiful church, he was always watching me as well as listening to the sermon and when he saw my feet start to swing or noticed me reading the program for the fourth time, he wouldn't say a word, he'd just smile that wonderful smile and quietly slip me a card or two and his pen.

Thus my memory of church as a child is not of a place where some man went on endlessly about confusing things while the grownups shushed me repeatedly, but rather of a beautiful place where I could relax and listen and think and write or draw pictures and feel inspiration and love and reverence around me.

Now as an adult, at many an important occasion, I've learned that my attention span isn't that much bigger than it once was and I've suffered a pang of guilt for thinking something like "Good grief, this is the longest wedding ceremony I've ever been to…" but then I remember those 3 x 5 cards and the permission they gave me to approach things at my own pace, to receive whatever lesson I was ready to learn, to experience the mood, the nature, of a time and place without feeling the need to examine and record every detail.

I want to share this lesson with you.

At some point today, even in this memorial service for someone we love very deeply, we admire very much, our minds will wander. This is not a betrayal of his memory; he loved the human mind with all its quirks. He's laughing and winking at you when you realize you've drifted off. Don't worry about it; be yourself.

Bob always seemed to like us best when we were just that.

But while you're woolgathering, if you remember something about him, some anecdote or a quality you always like about him, whatever it be, won't you please take one of those 3 x 5 cards you see in there with the hymnals and jot a note to remind you to share the story with us in Fellowship after the service?

As I learned from Grandpa Bob, church is about inspiration; life is about inspiration; welcome the gift, great or small, when it comes. Be yourself and be open to grace.

Thank you.