My eulogy for Joe Cumming

Daddy was not a religious man. But if the Kingdom of God is within, as Jesus says in Luke, it was there, within his mind and heart, that this Kingdom radiated. I think of it as a spectrum of energies, like the wave lengths of visible light between infrared to ultraviolet.

At one end of the spectrum was something simple: his notion that every ordinary day is an extraordinary miracle, if we could only see it. “Take any day, a soft summer day.” That’s one of the songs he wrote – lyrics and music. Or his poem that begins “One good day is only once/ And it begins forever deep.. .” when the sound of leaves laughing and “insects inspecting things unseen” are understood as “God’s odd hum.”

In an old volume of Shakespeare’s works he bought for his bride in 1949 “B.C.” (Before Children), he inscribed this: “A gift to mark the most important occasion: a day: un-marked and uncelebrated. It represents the truly important.”

At the other end of this energy spectrum was History. His mental Time Map was marked by ideas that squeezed themselves into channels like a great river system – with headwaters in the 17th and 18th centuries, joining together: democracy; free press; the profit motive; checks and balances. He taught students to see these in newspaper stories. In his lucky career with Newsweek, he saw this great force of history face to face in the Civil Rights Movement, and bore witness to it in his lyrical Southern voice.

And throughout this scale of frequencies, tinted with colors from one end to the other, the way a rainbow registers all colors without a clear boundary between them, there was his love of Embo, matched with rare chemistry by her love from him, and of family, of generations – of forbears and children and grandchildren. And on outward it went, to every wayward character he encountered in his worlds.

This was the Kingdom of God within him. His excited imagination behind those blue eyes could see it reflected even on a Sunday morning in any great sermon full of personal drama, or in the very space above the people in church, up to the rafters. He told me after church once in recent years that he could feel the presence of something in the very air above the people, a presence like love itself.

–Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, Dec. 15, 2020

About Doug Cumming

journalism professor at W&L
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