Secular Readings for a Funeral Service

In choosing secular funeral readings you can turn to books, essays, speeches, and other sources. As long as the content is appropriate and pays homage to the person you are honoring, there are no rules.

With so many sources to choose from, it can be difficult to make selections. Below are a few well-known examples of secular funeral readings. If none of these seem appropriate for your loved one, they can serve as inspiration. Your funeral director may have additional selections for you to consider. Click on the title to view the full passage.

Examples of Secular Funeral Readings


Out of Solitude by Henri Nouwen

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief or bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. Top↑

From Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Cowards die many times before their death; The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear; Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come. Top↑

Leigh Hunt, from a letter on the death of John Keats

Tell him that we shall all bear his memory in the most precious part of our hearts, and that the world shall bow their heads to it, as our loves do. Tell him that the most skeptical of us has faith enough in the high things that nature puts into our heads, to think that all who are of one accord in mind and heart, are journeying to one and the same place, and shall unite somehow or other again face to face, mutually conscious, mutually delighted. Tell him he is only before us on the road, as he was in everything else, and that we are coming after him. Top↑

From The Apology of Socrates (Plato, Translation by B. Jowett)

There is great reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things—either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain…Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this?…Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. Top↑

From The Mysterious Tao (Musings of a Chinese Mystic by Chuang Tzu)

The six cardinal points, reaching into infinity, are ever included in Tao. An autumn spikelet, in all its minuteness, must carry Tao within itself. There is nothing on earth which does not rise and fall, but it never perishes altogether. The Yin and the Yang, and the four seasons, keep to their proper order. Apparently destroyed, yet really existing; the material gone, the immaterial left —such is the law of creation, which passeth all understanding. This is called the root, whence a glimpse may be obtained of God. Top↑

From The Book of Margins by Edmond Jabes

It is very hard to live with silence. The real silence is death…To approach this Silence, it is necessary to journey into the desert. You do not go into the desert to find identity but to lose it, to lose your personality, to become anonymous. You make yourself voiceless. You become silence. And then something extraordinary happens: you hear silence speak. Top↑

From Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And we will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.—
And every tongue that
But Romeo’s name speaks heavenly eloquence. Top↑

From The Dead by James Joyce

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived itself, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and father westward softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill… His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. Top↑

Untitled (Anne Morrow Lindbergh 16 years after the kidnapping and murder of her infant son)

Suffering – no matter how multiplied – is always individual. “Pain is the most individualizing thing on the earth,” Edith Hamilton has written.
“It is true that it is the great common bond as well, but that realization comes only when it is over. To suffer is to be alone. To watch another suffer is to know the barrier that shuts each of us away by himself. Only individuals can suffer.

Suffering is certainly individual, but at the same time it is a universal experience. There are even certain familiar stages in suffering, and familiar, if not identical, steps in coming to terms with it., as in the healing of illness – as, in fact, in coming to terms with death itself. To see these steps in another’s life can be illuminating and perhaps even helpful.

What I am saying is not simply the old Puritan truism that “suffering teaches.” If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to be vulnerable., All these and other factors combined, if the circumstances are right, can teach and can lead to rebirth.

But there is no simple formula, or swift way out, no comfort or easy acceptance of suffering. “There is no question,” as Katherine Mansfield wrote, “of getting beyond it” – “The little boat enters the dark fearful gulf and our only cry is to escape – ‘put me on land again.’ But it’s useless. Nobody listens. The shadowy figure rows on. One ought to sit still and uncover one’s eyes.”

…Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a shield, permissible for a short time only. In the end, one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable – open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering. Top↑

Untitled by John Stuart Mill

Human existence is girt round with mystery: the narrow region of our experience is a small island in the midst of a boundless sea. To add to the mystery, the domain of our earthly existence is not only an island of infinite space, but also in infinite time. The past and the future
are alike shrouded from us: we neither know the origin of anything which is, nor its final destination. Top↑

Anonymous, Translated from Japanese by Ryukichi Kurata

There is nothing more terrible than the recent death of a one beloved. During the 49 days of ritual observance and their retreat to a mountain temple with the other mourners, every fiber of emotion is wrung when in these marrow and solitary surroundings are celebrated the masses for the dead. Yet those days glide swiftly and, on the last, desolation is again our portion as we collect our belongings and disperse silently on our several ways to return to the saddened house.

We do not willingly forget the beloved, but days go by and, as the proverb, “Those departed become strangers and remote.” The shock subsides. We must laugh and be trivial. The body is buried on a lonely and far-off mountain, and is visited only on ritual days. Before long, memorial stone is overgrown with moss and heaped with dead leaves, and only faithful visitors are the night-wind and the moon…The grass in spring overgrowing may rouse emotion. It may be sad to hear that the ancient pine-tree of a thousand years has fallen in the great storm and is now cut up for firewood. And then the ancient graveyard becomes a ploughed field, and its place knows it no more. Top↑

Our friend died at his own battlefield. Rivendell Resources grants anyone the right to reprint this without request for compensation so long as the copy is not used for profit and so long as this paragraph is reprinted in its entirety with any copied portion. For further information contact: Cendra (ken’dra) Lynn, Ph.D. Rivendell Resources PO Box 3272 Ann Arbor, MI, 48106-3272

Our friend died at his own battlefield. He was killed in action fighting a civil war. He fought against adversities that were as real to him as his casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of his energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of his courage and his strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed him. And it appeared that he had lost the war. But did he? I see a host of victories that he has won!

“For one thing – he has won our admiration – because even if he lost the war, we give him credit for his bravery on the battlefield. And we give him credit for the courage and pride and hope that he used as his weapons as long as he could. We shall remember not his death, but his daily victories gained through his kindness and thoughtfulness, through his love for his family and friends… for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable. We shall remember not his last day of defeat, but we shall remember the many days that he was victorious over overwhelming odds. We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, but the intensity with which he lived the years that he had. Only God knows what this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes that took place in his soul. But our consolation is that God does know, and understands. Top↑

Parable On Immortality by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty and strength.  I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There she goes.”

Gone where?  Gone from my sight…that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her.  And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes”, there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” Top↑

At a Child’s Grave by Robert G. Ingersoll

I know how vain it is to gild a grief with words, and yet I wish to take from every grave its fear. Here in this world, where life and death are equal kings, all should be brave enough to meet what all the dead have met. The future has been filled with fear, stained and polluted by the heartless past. From the wondrous tree of life the buds and blossoms fall with ripened fruit, and in the common bed of earth, patriarchs and babes sleep side by side.

Why should we fear that which will come to all that is? We cannot tell, we do not know, which is the greater blessing—life or death. We cannot say that death is not a good. We do not know whether the grave is the end of this life, or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else a dawn. Neither can we tell which is the more fortunate—the child dying in its mother’s arms, before its lips have learned to form a word, or he who journeys all the length of life’s uneven road, painfully taking the last slow steps with staff and crutch.

Every cradle asks us “Whence?” and every coffin “Whither?” The poor barbarian, weeping above his dead, can answer these questions just as well as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of the one, is as consoling as the learned and unmeaning words of the other. No man, standing where the horizon of a life has touched a grave, has any right to prophesy a future filled with pain and tears.

May be death gives all there is of worth to life. If those we press and strain within our arms could never die, perhaps that love would wither from the earth. May be this common fate treads out from the paths between our hearts the weeds of selfishness and hate. And I had rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not. Another life is nought, unless we know and love again the ones who love us here.

They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest. We know that through the common wants of life—the needs and duties of each hour—their grief will lessen day by day, until at last this grave will be to them a place of rest and peace—almost of joy. There is for them this consolation: The dead do not suffer. If they live again, their lives will surely be as good as ours. We have no fear. We are all children of the same mother, and the same fate awaits us all. We, too, have our religion, and it is this: Help for the living—Hope for the dead. Top↑




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