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Spirit in the Sky

Father Don Farnan

Jun 25

Next to Danny Boy, undertakers report that Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky is the most requested funeral song for services marking the end of life. When the Jesus Rebellion was overtaking America in the late 60s and early 70s, the Jewish lyricist invoked the Son of God to advance his message of life after death. Though not a huge hit at the time, it has had lasting power through the past half-century. The words are straightforward: “When I die, and they lay me to rest I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best. When I lay me down to die, goin’ up to the spirit in the sky.” Greenbaum says that “You’ve got to have a friend in Jesus, so you’ll know that, when you die, he’ll recommend you to that spirit in the sky.”

Of course, we all want to get a good recommendation to the heavenly abode where our soul and glorified body can enjoy the rewards of eternal salvation, while our human spirit more actively comingles with the Holy Spirit on the spiritual dimension that dances in and out of heaven and earth. None of us knows what that means; we can only imagine. The Christian rock band, MercyMe, helps us grasp our first glimpse of heaven with more questions than answers: “Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?” I Can Only Imagine.

Numerous Catholics associate funerals with the song, On Eagle’s Wings. It is based on the 40th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, that states, “You will soar up as if on eagles’ wings…” It is an encouragement passage for humans to trust in the Lord, even when things look deathly bleak or devastatingly impossible, that all is working toward a greater purpose for us in God’s world, and that those who surrender to His love will share in a greater good. It is a reminder to mourners that God’s angels are close and will take our Loved One in flight to eternal grace, to be forever young, to run and not grow weary, to walk and never be tired, to experience peace in the presence of God—not peace as merely the absence of conflict but as the encirclement of pure love.

As the lyrics to Danny Boy speak of a love so deep that it teeters between this world and the next, they conjure an elegant anguish of exquisite beauty and deep sadness: the pipes calling from glen to glen and down the mountainside, as roses fall and flowers die, and the summer meadow is hushed with snow on the valley, permeated by sunshine and shadow and quiet prayer. Then, after we also die, sleeping in peace, his spirit will come as we are reawakened to a new reality of even more profound love and grace.

Here below we can only imagine what it’s like to gain new life through the spirit in the sky. Yet it’s a good thing to continuously contemplate and strive toward.