The final article in the current issue of Liturgy concerns itself with a topic which is particularly suited to Lenten reflection: christian funeral and burial practices. Benjamin M. Stewart introduces readers to the recent emergence of the natural burial movement in the industrialized west, and the depth of its liturgical possibilities within a christian context.
Stewart points out that natural burial is not, in fact, a novel approach to funerals, but rather a return to relatively recent practice.
The natural burial movement has focused on three areas of practice: care for the body of the deceased, attention to the materials of the burial vessel, and the committal of the body to the earth. While the natural burial movement is growing rapidly and, therefore, sometimes is framed as ‘‘new’’ in media accounts, within the actual movement itself and in more thoughtful accounts of natural burial practices, it is clear that most of the practices of the natural burial movement are actually adaptations of traditional practices that were quite normal through most of human history until only a few generations ago. Additionally, when I have made presentations on natural burial to groups with international representation, I have been reminded that natural burial practices are much more common in other parts of the world (in some cases, such practices have only begun to be abandoned in recent memory). Thus, on the whole, the natural burial movement takes pains to clarify that they are not proposing an alternative to traditional burial practices. Rather, they are advocating mostly traditional practices over and against what they see as recent harmful distortions of burial practices.
Have members of your congregation considered adopting (or perhaps that should be re-adopting)natural burial practices? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Benjamin M. Stewart (2012): Committed to the Earth: Ecotheological Dimensions of Christian Burial Practices, Liturgy, 27:2, 62-72.
Benjamin M. Stewart is the Gordon A. Braatz assistant professor of worship and dean of Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.