Out of the great tribulation

dead man's fingers
Dead man’s fingers

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The graves are dug, by hand, and by church members, as prescribed.

Messengers have gone door to door, family to family, to deliver vot, the traditional oral invitations.

Later, the graves will be covered with dirt and marked by simple stones. But before that happens, horses and buggies will bear friends and family to private, home funerals – four today, one tomorrow – as the Amish of this peaceful farming community prepare to bury their lost daughters.

As the funerals drew near, the refrain among the Amish was forgiveness – for the man who collected milk from their farms, who was father to three children, and who took their girls from them.

“The Amish feel very strongly that unless you forgive, you won’t be forgiven,” said Stephen Scott of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.

The grieving families will select the white dresses, capes and aprons that will be their children’s final clothing, while community members lean on the scriptures that govern their lives.

The belief is “there is a larger picture that is all according to a divine plan, whether we as humans can understand it or not,” said Scott, who has written extensively on Amish culture.

The white clothing is based on biblical references, Scott said, including Revelations 7:14: These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The casket is usually placed in a bedroom for the viewing. Afterward, mourners gather elsewhere in the home and chat about the deceased.

A small family funeral at home is followed by a community funeral. Most Old Order Amish communities – conservative ones, like those whose children attend West Nickel Mines Amish School – do not have church buildings. In good weather, funerals are often held in barns, Scott said.

There will be no mention of the girls’ smiles or the lives they touched. “The Amish would feel that you shouldn’t praise people too much; praise goes to God,” Scott said.

Nor will there be singing, he said. The words to hymns will be read aloud.

During services, a white cloth covers the partially opened casket and conceals the body. Afterward, the cloth is removed, and those in attendance file by, family last. The coffin is then closed.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

9 Comments


  1. This made me cry, Dave. Thank you for a very spare, restrained, and appropriate eulogy.

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  2. As the mother of three daughters, I can hardly bear to read this. Their faith that tribulation will bring strength and purity is a sustaining hope. Beautifully done.

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  3. Yes, heartbreaking ( I have three daughters too) and yet there is something hopeful in the Amish way of forgiveness. Can you imagine this world if everyone could forget “eye for an eye” and forgive! Imagine!!

    That’s a spooky photo, by the way!

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  4. Dave, this is so moving… and the photo, so haunting!

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  5. Thanks for the comments. As an uncle of two charming and beautiful nieces, let me tell you, I’m not sure that forgiveness would be the first — or even the second or third — thing to occur to me.

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