First, I want to say, Peace, to each and all of you. I think Dave would have wanted that. For those who do not know me, I am Peter Hulen, Dave’s erstwhile baby brother. As we reminisce, and grieve, and accept into our hearts and minds the loss of Dave’s physical presence, I hope to open a window on both his life and on his passing. This eulogy is to honor Dave, to try and bring together his life and its meaning for us in a way that reflects the depth and uniqueness of his own pilgrimage
I do not have precious knowledge of Dave as a baby or a child. I have only been around for forty of his years; I can only relate his story as it is intertwined with my own. The Dave I have known longest had difficulty with physical travel, but in his heart he traveled places we have not seen. Out of his experiences of injury, loss, and physical disability grew a powerful spirit that deeply affected those he loved, and taught, and interacted with.
Spiritual growth happens when someone has a meaningful experience that changes them, that in some way belongs to them alone, that is not shared in the quite same way by the rest of their community, so that they turn within to understand what it means. Dave’s own story, as he has related it, is a story about light. There are stories in our traditions that describe spiritual transformation. One of them, from the ancient Hebrews, describes the experience of a man named Jacob. This is how it goes:
was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man
saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket;
and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then the
man said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will
not let you go unless you bless me.” So the man said to him, “What is your
name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be
called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with divine and human beings,
and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”
But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
So Jacob called the place Pe·ni’el, “the face of God,” saying,
“For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun
rose upon him as passed, limping because of his hip.
Jacob was a man changed by his struggle.
Another story from the Acts of the early Christian apostles tells of Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted those following the teachings of Jesus. Saul is on his way to Damascus to do more persecuting, when he is stopped in his tracks and knocked to the ground by a blinding light, and confronted by the voice of none other than Jesus himself, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Like Jacob, Saul was forever changed by his encounter with the Divine.
Then, there is Siddhartha Gautama, raised in a life of sheltered luxury until one right after another he saw for the first time an old person, a sick person, and a dead person; and in a bolt from the blue he understood that suffering is real. He renounced his little bubble world forever and set out on a path of spiritual discovery that led him toward enlightenment. People said, “Who is this guy? Are you a king?” “No.” “Are you a holy man?” “No.” “Are you a god?” “No.” “Then what are you?” “I am…awake.” The word for “awake,” of course, is Buddha.
Dave’s story is like Jacob’s story, and Saul’s story, and Siddhartha’s story. I like to associate Dave with Jacob. We had a great grandfather whose name was Jacob; Dave said he felt like he had something of that Jacob’s spirit in him. For a while there he liked to call himself “Jake Dharma.”
Dave has gone—into the light, but unlike the rest of us when our time comes, it is a light Dave remembered seeing before. He experienced a catastrophe 36 years ago that changed him forever. Like Jacob of old, his body was marked and changed—he was stricken by that messenger, and like Jacob, he wrestled with it, and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Dave had a near-death experience when he had that accident, an experience of ineffable light that put him on a spiritual path to integrate and give meaning to what happened. Like Saul, he saw the light and was changed by it; and like Siddhartha, he set out on a spiritual journey that led him toward enlightenment.
The rest of us are still catching up with Dave. His body lost its ability to walk, but his spirit learned to run. After surviving as he did, Dave was a fearless explorer, developing an account of the light he saw and of that with which he wrestled. We sometimes struggled to understand descriptions of his journey. We were sometimes afraid of accepting the ways of his unique path. Apostles of Jesus have written that, “God is light,” that God “dwells in unapproachable light,” that Christ was the light that “shined in the darkness.” Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world.” He also said, “You are the light of the world.” On the other hand, the ancient story of the fallen angel describes the infamous Lucifer as an “angel of light.” The name even means “light.” Divine light calls us to the Ground of our Being, it shines within us, and it also casts the shadows hiding what we fear.
Dave was forced by fearsome circumstances to learn new things. He once wrote in a poem to me, “And I tell you, one moment’s poor judgment can buy you ten thousand post requisite lessons.” Dave had no choice but to learn; the rest of us, in some ways, are still figuring out how to learn.
Sorrow is a master teacher. And we have that teacher, right now, don’t we? Let us follow Dave’s example and embrace the reality of our sorrow, saying, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jesus of Nazareth became known as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Let us become acquainted with our own grief, with all our sorrows, and let them teach us, and deepen us, just like David did.
David was always teaching and learning. He described to me the learning he was preparing to do this semester. Who knew that it was already time for him to graduate, in the way he has now? Let us adopt his spirit of learning and deepen ourselves while we have time to learn. Let us keep our pilgrimages of the spirit, growing into new and broader understanding of what is real. For what Dave learned, and what he taught us, is with us still, and lives on in us as we tread our own paths, until we, too, see that light, and know the better what Dave was saying and living.
O God of many names, Oneness beyond naming, in which we live, and move, and have our being, to which we even speak. We commend the spirit of our son, our brother, our uncle, nephew, cousin, colleague, lover, teacher, and friend. We bid him farewell as he walks, as he walks, into perpetual light, as we keep the vigil of our own sorrowful loss and happy remembrance, as we commit his body to become again what rests in the earth, rides on the wind, and settles in the sea. And however we each come to the understanding of arising and passing, and arising again, wherefore, may we comfort one another with the words of our hope. In the name of God, One Being, uniting all that is. Amen.