Awakening to Life

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.   (Psalm 116:15)

Seldom do we modern people think of death as being precious.  We generally like to avoid thinking about death and often attempt to turn funerals into a celebration of life.   The Scriptures however tell us that in God’s eyes there is something precious, valuable, sterling in the death of a saint.  For God looks upon us humans from a perspective very different from our own.

The death of a saint is precious in God’s eyes because Life is precious. Life is not made less precious in God’s eyes because there is sickness or sorrow or suffering in it.  For God holds precious the life and the lives who have come into existence in and through God’s created order.  And whether a human lives for 94 years or 94 seconds, they are no less precious to God, for God lives in eternity, not in time, and God does not experience us in time or for a limited amount of time.  God brings us into the timelessness of eternity in order to best experience us.

Unlike God for whom all life is precious, for us humans we more often hold that some life is precious and sometimes life is precious and some lives are more precious than others.  We feel the pain, sorrow and grief when someone we care about suffers or dies.  We feel that for those we care about life is short,  and we understand that giving one’s life in service to others is the ultimate sacrifice, exactly because life is precious.  But we also anguish over and are sunk in doubt when suffering enters into our life or the life of those we care about.  Because life is precious we don’t want those important to us to suffer, we don’t want to suffer ourselves, and we don’t want death to end this short life.

So God sees us from the timeless point of view of eternity, and we see things only from our limited experience within the universe of space and time.

The Scriptures have another view of this and that view combines God’s view with our own.  Life is precious.  But life is also fraught with difficulties – just consider the two Psalms 23 & 91 which mention evil, the valley of the shadow of death, enemies, the deadly pestilence, the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that stalks in darkness, the destruction that wastes at noonday.   Sudden death, violence, terrorism, disease, aging, crime, natural disaster, and human made disaster.  The Psalms are quite realistic about all the problems that beset us and threaten this precious life.

The Scriptures are clear that despite all these threats to life, God is love and God finds our lives precious, even if life is cut short, even if the world is awash in sin, even if there are evil divisions between.   God sees through all of these distractions, and sees us as the people created in God’s image and likeness, everyone of us, and God still sees life and people as precious.   All that happens in the world, good and evil, does not change the fact that life is precious in God’s eyes.  And so too precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of God’s saints.  Whatever role they had in the world however great or minor, however long or short, God sees beyond all the things that color our assessment of things and sees the precious human being, that one part of creation created in God’s own image and likeness.  God recognizes in us what God created us for and wants us to be.

And in Scriptures the end of life in this world, death, is often recognized as a rest from the labors and struggles in this world.   Scripture offers comfort to those who are still struggling in this world, still dealing with sickness, sorrow and sighing by calling the death of a person the time when they cease from their labors in this world and enter into their rest.    That is what we read in the writings of St Paul such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  The comfort offered is that death is a sleep, a time of rest, until the Lord awakens us in God’s Kingdom.  The implication is that we lie down in this world to enter into our rest as the twilight of our life comes to an end. The next thing we will know is the morning dawn in God’s kingdom where everything is light.

The preciousness of the death of a saint, of a believer, is that God knows that person will now be with God forever, no longer suffering in this world, no longer toiling, but enjoying the blessedness of all God’s creatures in an eternal life with our Creator.

In the Orthodox tradition we sing a hymn at the funeral service which says:

With the saints give rest, O Lord, to the soul of your servant who has fallen asleep in a place of brightness, a place of repose, where sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.

We commit our deceased loved ones to that blessed kingdom where all life is precious in God’s eyes and all feast on the blessedness of seeing God because all the obstacles which prevent us from seeing God in this life have been taken away.

Give Rest, O Lord, to Those Who Have Fallen Asleep

In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John hears a voice calling from heaven saying:

“Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”  (Revelation 14:13)

It is a promise of eternal rest for the saints of God – rest from labor, hardships and all toil and tears.   It is the final lifting of the curse that was imposed on our ancestors, Eve and Adam, after they sinned against God.

And to Adam God said, “Because you … have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”   (Genesis 3:17-19)

The labors we experience because life in this world of the Fall is hard and at times harsh.  It is God who promises us a rest from all labor when the eternal kingdom is established.

In our funerals and memorial services, we pray that God will give rest to the souls of those servants of God who have departed this life, just as is promised in Revelation.  We even speak in our services of dying as falling asleep, we are entering into a rest from our labors.  Yet, even though death is a sleep, a rest from our labors, we fear death, and often avoid talking about it.  Death is the one thing in life we are guaranteed to experience but we rarely want to think about it. Talk about living in denial!

We all look forward to the joy of the Pascha midnight celebration, and yet what are we singing about there?  Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…   Pascha is all about death and the dead – about the death of death.  The very things we avoid thinking about are both part of the greatest celebration of the Orthodox Church.

Myself, I am preparing to enter into retirement, which I hope will be a rest from my labors, but then I think about the Parable of Jesus:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

I hope I am not that rich fool.  I know I’m not financially rich.  I did not work to build the parish in order to have an easy life in this world.  My hope is that our labor in establishing St. Paul parish has made us rich towards God.  So when the day comes for us to enter into that sleep, we will do so joyfully awaiting God to call us awake.

For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.  (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

Tomorrow You May Die is Never True

There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.

The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”  (Luke 16:19-31)

See also my blog Poor Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Twenty-five years ago there was an article in NEWSWEEK magazine entitled, “Our Fear of Dying”, 4 October 1993.  The author, Daniel Callahan made several comments that still seem true today:

“As a health obsessed society, we do not know what to do with death, other than to try to control it.”

Callahan mentioned the American medical enterprise invests heavily in trying to overcome diseases that lead to death – a veritable war on death.  He noted that in the medical enterprise in America there is

“… the potent assumption that death is essentially an accident, correctable with enough money, will and scientific ingenuity…”

If America put enough of its wealth and entrepreneurial spirit into it, medical science would make death itself a thing of the past.   Callahan wrote that other modern cultures around the world were much more at peace with human mortality.  America perhaps was in a great deal of denial about what it is to be human.  About the time that he wrote that article, I was a speaker at a continuing education event for doctors at a local university, speaking about end of life issues.  I remember clearly how the surgeons in the group were almost never ready to admit that there was an end to treatment for patients and almost all felt there was always one more thing that could be tried.  The family practice doctors on the other hand seemed to have a clearer sense that there was a point where you have to admit there is nothing more you can do medically for a patient.  Callahan argues that we

“… should seek to educate physicians to see death not as an accident that medicine has failed to eliminate, but as a permanent part of the human condition that requires medicine’s good care, a fitting and inevitable final goal of the entire enterprise.”

Our fear of death drove us to denial about its reality, leading to our throwing money into an effort to defeat death, and yet Americans like all humans continue to die daily.  We may increase life expectancy, but we  should expect death as well.  We dream that medical science can eventually conquer all the causes of death, that there really is absolutely nothing to limit our human ingenuity and drive.

Perhaps we should read again the Genesis account of the tower of Babel.  Those folks too believed nothing could limit them.  But that Is another story.

The Bible reminds us that death has a spiritual cause.  We cannot eliminate death by using only medical means.  Death is related to sin, and has something to do with our own spiritual lives and our relationship to God.  Or, more accurately our loss of a relationship to God.

Everything in this world comes to an end, everything has a  limit – a great basketball game, a wonderful symphony, the beauty of autumn, an exquisite gourmet meal, a spirited dance, a football winning streak.

Death can only be cheated through our own repentance, our establishing a right relationship with God.  Godliness sees us through the experience of death into the realm of eternal life.

Some years ago I saw a poem written during the Byzantine Empire.  It said:

Eat, Drink, be merry for tomorrow

You may die.

But you never do.

You never die tomorrow, for the day of your death is always this day you are in, and there is no tomorrow for the one who has died today.  The poem points out to us a fallacy in our thinking which makes us believe we will live forever since tomorrow never comes.  Today, however, is the day.

Some ask the question, why do we die at all?  Why is there death.  We Christians might respond by saying that is the wrong question.  The real question is  “why is their life?”  Why does anything exist at all?

It all exists because of God and God’s love.  Death brings this life to an end, but death cannot change the purpose of life, which is to love God and be in communion with God.  Death cannot separate us from the love of God.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . .  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:35-39)

Many people wonder what happens to us when we die and it is a common question asked in churches.  All kinds of speculations exist and descriptions of life after death, even in Orthodoxy, toll house theories and the like.  Read the Gospel lesson above (Luke 16:19-31), it too gives a description of life after death, albeit in a parable, so it is not trying to give an accurate portrayal of life beyond the grave.  But in the parable ultimately the rich man now in his life-after-death situation wants to try to reach back to the people he left behind in the world.  There is this irony –  We in the world are all wondering about life after death, and he in the afterlife is worried about those living in the world!  And basically the parable is not teaching us about what happens to us after death, but a warning to us to pay attention to how we live while on earth.  The afterlife cannot help us live properly on earth and living correctly on earth is far more important to our Lord Jesus than the life after death. He who proclaimed His kingdom is not of this world spends very little time talking about life after death.

We might remember that according to the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve in the garden of Paradise, after they sin, they try to hide from God.

Notice how different our Lord Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane, in His deepest prayer He desires to be with God and not be left alone.

Both were facing death, but for Adam and Eve death meant separation from God and they chose death and that separation from God.  For Christ, death could not separate Him from His father.  Death is no friend for Jesus.  Christ sees beyond death to eternal life and an unending loving relationship with God our Father.  Christ chooses eternal life.

Humans were created for immortality, death is a disintegration of the human.  But our battle with death is a spiritual battle which cannot be fought by medicine alone.  The medical enterprise will not bring an end to death.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live.” (John 11:25)

A Christian End to Our Life

Then, I come to our faith. What is our faith concerning death? It can again be described in simple sentences, but behind each one lies a wealth of experience and vision. In Christian doctrine, death is first of all called the “sting of sin.” It is not just an elementary answer about biological or physical death. In Christian vocabulary death means separation from God as a result of sin – a kind of ontological catastrophe that has made creation, or rather man’s life, into what it was not when God created it. Thus death carries the sting of sin. As separation from God, death – not physical, not physiological death, but death as sin and separation – has been abolished by Christ’s death. Therefore the dead – those who sleep – are alive in Christ.

(Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Liturgy of Death, p. 145)

For the human, separation from God is the definition of death.  Christ’s death has changed everything – for even in death we are not separated from Christ our God. There is no place we can go where we will be separated from Christ. As it says in Psalm 139:8 –

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 

 He descended to the place of the dead, filling all things with Himself.  In death we are with Christ who triumphed over death and its separation from God.  Christ is Lord of the dead as well as the living for all are alive in Him.

If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.   (Romans 14:8-9)

Death: Sojourn to Life

St. Ephrem the Syrian in one of his poems takes us on a tour from Paradise to earth.  Paradise is superlatively better than earth, and yet humans cling to the earth and don’t want to leave it.   He compares our attitude to death to that of the infant in the mother’s womb – both the dying person  and the unborn infant are reluctant to leave the world they know, even if they are entering into an even greater experience or life.  

I was in wonder as I crossed

the borders of Paradise

at how well-being, as though a companion

turned round and remained behind.

And when I reached the shore of earth,

the mother of thorns,

I encountered all kinds

of pain and suffering.

I learned how, compared to Paradise,

our abode is but a dungeon;

yet the prisoners within it

weep when they leave it!

I was amazed at how even infants

weep as they leave the womb–

weeping because they come out

from darkness into light

and from suffocation they issue forth

into this world!

Likewise death, too,

is for the world

a symbol of birth,

and yet people weep because they are born

out of this world, the mother of suffering,

into the garden of splendors.

Have pity on me,

O Lord of Paradise,

and if it is not possible for me

to enter your Paradise,

grant that I may graze

outside, by its enclosure;

within, let there be spread

the table for the “diligent,”

but may the fruits within its enclosure

drop outside like the “crumbs”

for sinners, so that, through Your grace,

they may live!

(Hymns on Paradise, pp. 106-108)

The Dormition of the Theotokos: We are in God’s Hands

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-15)

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The Feast of the Dormition is our commemoration of the death of Jesus Christ‘s own Mother.   The Holy Trinity entrusted the incarnation of the Word of God to Mary: God becomes human and entrusts His human life to this very special woman.  At her death, Mary entrusts herself to her Son, the incarnate God.

Because this Feast does deal with death, it is a good time for us to reflect on death.  Oftentimes we avoid thinking about death until we are forced to face it at a funeral, and then our emotions can be so stirred that we cannot think rationally about it.  This Feast allows to think about death in a Christian way.  We pray in our liturgies for a Christian ending to our life – Mary, the Theotokos, experiences a truly Christian death, commending her soul and body to Her Son.

When someone dies –  we often comfort ourselves or others by saying that the deceased “is in God’s hands NOW.”  That is true, but only because we, our lives, are ALWAYS in God’s hands.  God doesn’t just take an interest in us at our death. But our popular belief seems to indicate that we are in control of our life until death and only then do we have to rely completely on God.  Our Christian life though is lived in God always and everywhere.  “… for ‘In him we live and move and have our being'”  (Acts 17:28).

God is love, God is not reacting to us, but always acting for us in love – throughout our life and in our death.  God receives our soul at death, not in reaction to our death, but because He carried us in love throughout our life.  We are never far from God, never separated from Him.

At the Feast of the Dormition we sing the Kontakion:

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos,

who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.

For being the Mother of Life,//

she was translated to life by the One Who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.  The Feast of the Dormition is the celebration of this Good News:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39)

Death no longer can separate us from God because Jesus Christ died, descended to the place of the dead, and conquered death raising us all to eternal life.  The Feast of the Dormition is a celebration of our belonging to Christ, and sharing in His victory over death.

None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.  (Romans 14:7-9)

The Dormition of the Virgin is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection – and of His extending the resurrection to His Church.

The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him …  (2 Timothy 2:11-12)

Conquering the Fear of Death

“How can the Christian overcome the fear of death? The faith that is central to the hope of Christians is the recognition of Christ’s conquest of death and that his resurrection is the first fruits, the guarantee of the universal resurrection of all human beings at the end of time. ‘In order to be able to face death one must be anchored in the certainty, an experiential and not only theoretical certainty, of eternal life. . .   there is in this possession of eternal life a certainty that reduces to naught the fear of death–not the pain of separation, not the regret that death exists, but the fear.’”

(Daniel B. Hinshaw, M.D., Suffering and the Nature of Healing, pp. 253-254)

The Sting of Death

“According to Fr. Sophrony, physical death and, especially, the accompanying fear of physical death corrupts human agency and fuels our willful tendency for selfishness, individualism, and sin. In a telling passage he writes, ‘Until man attains his resurrection in Christ everything in him is disfigured by fear of death and consequently by servitude to sin, also’. Fr. Sophrony here suggests that the tragedy of physical death fuels the further tragedy of sinful action; the condition of mortality lies at the core of humanity’s ethical predicament because fear of physical death is a basis for enslavement to sin. Fr. Sophrony cites a passage from the Letter to Hebrews (2:14-15) to support his view of the fall, which comports with several other voices within the Orthodox tradition. For example John Romanides states: 

The power of [physical] death in the universe has brought with it the will for self-preservation, fear and anxiety, which in turn are the root causes of self-assertion, egoism, hatred, envy and the life… Man does not die because he is guilty for the sin of Adam. He becomes a sinner because he is yoked to the power of the devil through death and its consequences.

For Romanides, Fr Sophrony, and other recent Orthodox thinkers, the two primary consequences of the fall are death and the fear of death; the disaster of sin in the world stems from the principal catastrophe of mortality. …  Death is the enemy because it violates the human identity as a creature made in God’s image, made for eternal existence. In addition, Fr. Sophrony affirms the biblical promise that the resurrected life will be an embodied life, although he refrains from making specific claims about the nature of resurrected bodies, other than those present in the New Testament record. Thus, the resurrected life satisfies the fundamental human yearning: it removes death’s finality, adding a new chapter after the tragic denouement of physical death and entailing the salvation of the entire human being – both the physical and the non-physical dimensions.” (Perry T. Hamalis in Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pp 208-209 & 210-211)

Bright Tuesday and Wednesday 2016

The week after Pascha, known as Bright Week, is a continuous celebration of the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes eloquently about what Orthodox believe about death and human mortality, and how the Christian vision of the human being and of death is so totally different from the non-Christian understanding.

“As for our own ultimate fate and destiny after death, this has gradually ceased being understood in the light of Christ’s resurrection and in relation to it. When we speak of Christ we say that He is risen, but about ourselves we profess the immortality of the soul, a belief which existed among Jews and Greeks long before the advent of Christ, and which to this day is the common belief of all religions without exception. As strange as this may sound, this is also a belief in which the resurrection of Christ is simply unnecessary. What has caused this peculiar divorce? The cause lies in our understanding of death, or rather, in our understanding of death as the separation of soul and body.

All pre- and non-Christian religions view the separation of soul and body not only as something ‘natural’, but as something decidedly positive, the soul’s liberation from the body, which interferes with its heavenly, pure and blessed spirituality. And insofar as human beings experience the body as the source of evil, sickness, suffering, and passions, so it naturally becomes the meaning and purpose of religion and religious life to liberate the soul from the ‘prison’ of the body, a liberation which reaches its climax in death. However, it must be emphasized as strongly as possible that this understanding of death is not Christian; indeed, it is incompatible with Christianity and directly contradicts it. Christianity proclaims, affirms and teaches that the separation of soul and body – which is our definition of death – is evil. This is what God did not create. This is what entered the world and enslaved it in opposition to God, in defiance of His plan, His will for the world, for man and for life. This is what Christ came to destroy.

But in order  to understand, or rather, fully to sense and feel this Christian awareness of death, at least a few words must first be said about this divine plan, which is partially disclosed in the Holy Scriptures and fully revealed in Christ – in His teaching, His death, His resurrection. Briefly and very simply, this plan may be sketched as follows: God created man with a soul and a body, or in other words, both spiritual and material. Man in the Bible is precisely this union of body, soul, and spirit. Man, as created by God, is spirit-filled body and incarnate spirit, and therefore any separation of soul and body (and not only their final separation in death), every rupture of their unity, is evil, a spiritual catastrophe.

This is also why we believe that the world’s salvation is God’s incarnation, His putting on flesh, a body – not ‘as if He had a body’, but a body in the full sense of this word: a body that gets hungry, gets tired, that suffers. Thus, separation of soul and body in death puts an end to life as the Scriptures define it, the body filled with the spirit, and the spirit incarnate within a body. No, in death man does not disappear, for created beings have no power to annihilate what God has called from non-existence into being. Yet in death man is buried into the darkness of lifelessness and powerlessness, he is given over to corruption and decay, as the apostle Paul says (cf. Rom. 8:21).

Let me repeat and emphasize that God did not create the world for separation, death, disintegration and decay. This is why the Christian Gospel proclaims that ‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor. 15:26). The resurrection is the world’s recreation in its original beauty and wholeness, in which material creation is fully permeated by spirit, and spirit is fully incarnate in God’s creation. The world is given to man as his life, and therefore, according to our Christian, Orthodox teaching, God does not destroy it, but transforms it into a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev.21:1), into the spiritual body of man, into the temple of God’s presence and glory in all that is created. ‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death…’

The destruction, this annihilation of death begins the very moment the Son of God, in His undying love for us, Himself freely descended to death and fills its darkness, its despair, its horror with the light of His love. This is why on Easter we not only sing that ‘Christ has risen from the dead…’, but that He is also ‘trampling down death by death.’”(Celebration of Faith: Sermons Vol. 1,  pp 94-96)

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In the End, What’s Important?

As humans, we are part of God’s creation, which means like everything else in the universe we change.  Obviously we age, some of us mature!   Our thinking over time can change.  Priorities and values can change.   And when we come to end of life issues, we often see more clearly what is truly important in life.  Mortality can help us realize many things are vain pursuits, and only a few things matter.   We can’t take wealth with us when we depart from the earth, but some Fathers thought that all that we gave away in charity we will receive again in the eternal world to come.

Having been diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer has made me reconsider some things. Things most important to me come to the forefront of my thinking.  Not only is worldly wealth less valued, but really worldly cares of all kinds get laid aside.

 

It so happens that before I was diagnosed with lung cancer I signed up with a few members of my parish to join a Hospice training program entitled The Unbroken Circle.  It is a program to help parishes form ideas and program to deal with grief, illness and death.  I am now in my life still a care giver, but have also become a care receiver.

One piece of literature I’ve read through this program published by Aging with Dignity is titled, Five Wishes.  It is a legal type document to help each individual think about end of life issues and to make some decisions about their care at the end of life. I found some of the the ideas in Wish 5 to be worth us considering, no matter where we are in our life sojourn.  In fact, our lives might be different if we always had these wishes close to our hearts:

I wish to have my family and friends know that I love them.

I wish to be forgiven for the times I have hurt my family, friends and others.

I wish to have my family, friends and others know that I forgive them for when they may have hurt me.

I wish for my family and friends to know that I do not fear death itself.  I think it is not the end, but a new beginning for me.

I wish for all my family members to make peace with each other before my death, if they can.

These certainly are wishes that I have.  I might add one other.

I wish for my family and friends always to have the awareness of God’s presence and to know that God loves them.

This is something I pray for my family, my friends, and my enemies.