a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 37, Wednesday in Holy Week, April 12, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On dying & death in the spirit of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (subtitle: I believe):[1] O Lord, I believe in mortality…

Daily, I examine the progression of life in this world and, e’en when peering through a lens of light and joy, there is, undeniably, “change and decay in all around I see.”[2]

And, daily, I experience the inexorable procession of mine aging; the “change and decay” in me of slower thought and shorter memory, sinew less supple and strength swifter spent.

Yea, so it is I believe that this life in this world is an inherently terminal proposition, and, one day, I know that I will die.

Yet, O Lord, I believe also (and more!) in You. I believe that You have not brought me this far to leave me.[3] I believe that on my dying day, as I have known what is temporal and spatial, physical and perishable, I forever finally fully will know what is spiritual and eternal.[4]

O Lord, by Your Spirit, grant me greater faith that, on my goin’ up yonder[5] day, I, with gratitude undying, fail not to fear not coming to You to behold You by sight face to face. Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] Saint Thérèse of Lisieux Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), Roman Catholic Carmelite nun revered for the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life, on her deathbed was heard to have murmured, “I am not dying. I am entering into life.”

[2] From one of my favorite hymns, Abide with me, by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). The full text of verse 2:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see;

O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

[3] From the gospel song, I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired (1978) by Curtis Burrell:

I don’t feel no ways tired,

I come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me that the road would be easy,

I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.

[4] This prayer is born out of my understanding of two of the Apostle Paul’s teachings: For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee (2 Corinthians 5.1, 4-5) and Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable…For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15.50b, 53-54).

[5] My reference to the gospel song Goin’ Up Yonder (1994) by Walter Hawkins, especially the words: As God gives me grace I’ll run this race until I see my Savior face to face. I’m goin’ up yonder to be with my Lord.

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a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 9, Friday, March 10, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On human mortality and the immortality of prayer: As mortal, O Lord, I know that I must reckon my flesh as grass that flourishes ‘til the wind blows, and then it is gone[1] or as the lily of the field, though today arrayed more splendidly than Solomon, tomorrow, withering, is cast into the oven.[2] Yet, O my Lord, dare I bid that You, by Your Spirit, make my prayer of adoration for You not as I am, but as You are; You Whose Love is steadfast from everlasting unto everlasting,[3] You Whose Word stands for ever.[4] Thus, I shall know, e’en now, whilst I dwell in flesh, that I shall pray You all my days in this world and in the timeless age to come. Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] See Psalm 103.15-16

[2] See Matthew 6.28-30

[3] See Psalm 103.17

[4] See Isaiah 40.8

facing another way, part 3 of 5

thinkinga personal reflection in anticipation of the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2017

When I look back to 2016 for epiphanies or revelations of change for others and for myself, among many things, I think about…

Election Day, November 8, and the culmination of a tumultuous, rancorous presidential campaign and the ongoing ramifications, reverberations for America and, I daresay, the world…

I grow more fretful (fearful?) about the incoming administration, which, given Donald Trump’s continuing and consistent airing of his stump-speech rhetoric and his choices for Cabinet and governmental posts, appears to be more politically and socially conservative, indeed, regressive than I find fitting or faithful to our American identity as expressed in our national motto, E pluribus unum.

The rise of nationalism, nativism in the politics of many countries in Europe and America[1] as governments sought to grapple with numerous concerns; prominent among them, the explosion of violent ideological extremism and terrorism, immigration and the migrant crisis of millions of dislocated peoples, and cyber-insecurity and its immediate effects on domestic and economic security…

I wonder whether America, both concerning our presidential administration and we as a people, particularly in regard and response to extremism and terrorism, can and will sharpen the line between justice and vengeance, between increased safety and the loss of our personal liberties, between self-defense and, if vengeance is our course, self-destruction of our national soul’s health.

The continued minority community-law enforcement tensions, heightened by police-involved killings of black men and what seem to be retaliatory shootings of police officers…

I worry that the trust-mistrust of the police, which distinctly divides along racial lines, may be, if not conclusive evidence, then a dreadfully proverbial canary-in-the-coal-mine-warning of America’s yet to be resolved societal and systemic inequality in the respect for human life.

The Bethelehemic experience of birth, bearing the joy of new and innocent life and a renewal of hope for the growth of love, peace, and justice in this world…

I have shared, often through the “miracle” of Facebook, in the wonder of the births of babies of friends around the nation and world. Still, I worry about the world into which these new lives have come; a world where, as I perceive it, hatred often overrides love, war outweighs peace, and inequity outbalances justice.

Illness

I witnessed and walked with others through their bouts with sundry sicknesses from moderate to severe and their rounds of various treatments. Late in the year, I, and later still, my daughter underwent surgeries to correct longstanding conditions. The infirmities of friends and family, and my own brought me face to face afresh with my unhappiness, sometimes, I confess, my bitterness about life’s often sudden and always uncontrollable turns of chance and circumstance and gratitude for the restoration to health whene’er and for whom it came and a commitment to live as well as I can for as long as I can.

Death

I joined with countless others with saddened sentiments of the deaths in 2016 of many notable persons and personalities; the accumulation of their departures seeming to pick of speed in the last months of the year. Most near and dear, Timothy MacBeth Veney, my brother from another mother, died in July. That Tim was Pontheolla’s and my forever “frienily” (a friend who is family) and married to Loretta, also our forever “frienily”, stirred and still stirs sorrow. Yet, given Tim’s especially virtuous love, verily, righteous lust for life, I have come to a higher appreciation for the content of human character of others and my own, a broader attention to crafting and caring for my legacy to the next generation, and a deeper acceptance and less fearful respect for the enduring reality of human mortality.

Continuing to look back, again I ask, what do you see? How have you been changed?

More to come…looking forward

 

Footnote:

[1] Sometimes I think of this development as a Western expression or perhaps reaction to what has been termed, rather misleadingly, I think, as the “Arab Spring” of late 2010 forward; a time when multiple Middle Eastern countries witnessed the advent of citizen demonstrations protesting the way things were and compelling change. What makes Arab Spring a confusing or, at the least, an ambiguous descriptor is that the political transformations largely have been away from an Arab nationalism toward a Muslim identity.

Charles Carrington Herbert, Sr.

Yesterday, at Epiphany Church, Laurens, SC, where I am privileged to serve as priest-in-charge, part-time, I was honored to preside at the funeral of Charles Carrington Herbert, Sr. (March 14, 1922-August 11, 2016), with his wife Mary long-lived members of Epiphany and the greater Laurens community.

In part because of my vocation as a priest and pastor and in part because of my passionate respect for life and mortality, the death of anyone at any time through any cause always provokes in me the deepest reflection, pondering anew the inevitability of life’s end and, thus, life’s meaning.

I this spirit, I share the text of the homily I preached yesterday.

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In this life, I have noticed the occurrence, rather frequent when I am observant, of coincidences; moments when time in space and infinity coincide. Or what Celtic spirituality refers to as “thin places” of minimal separation between earthly and eternal realities, when one can experience, as the Apostle Paul commends, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”[1]

Such was my experience, many times over, these past few days and much of it related to Carrington Herbert.

First, Jane, you called advising me of your father’s downturn in health. Near the end of our conversation, you asked, “Have you visited my parents?” “No,” I said, “it’s on my list of ‘to-dos’.” Then I added, “Given what you’ve shared, I may need to accelerate my timing.” You gently replied, “Yes, you might want to do that.” Your kindly honest urgency was, for me, a thin place of a divine summons uttered through a human voice compelling me to act.

And Jane, when I met you and blessed Mary this past Sunday here at Epiphany, I happily could report to you that I had made plans to go out to the farm that coming, now this past Tuesday. And the entirety of that time in space was, for me, an experience out of time in space and, therefore, a thin place.

There, in that historic 19th century home, all of the materials of construction, Carrington proudly telling me, borne by the land, I sat at his bedside. I didn’t say much. Not because I couldn’t. Yes, Carrington was quite voluble as I was advised, as I was warned he would be. Yet, though quite garrulous myself, I didn’t want to talk, but only to listen to Carrington tell me, with humor and candor, among many things, about growing up, about meeting Mary, about serving in the military, about coming home in one piece “with all my parts in the right places,” he said, thus able to fulfill his pre-war promise of marrying his Mary, with whom, after seventy years, he added, “I’m still in love,” about having children and a growing family, by each and all of whom he was deeply blessed and for whom he was richly proud.

Carrington also spoke with fondness about the Episcopal Church in general and about Epiphany Church in particular, about the history and the building, which he had a large hand in bringing to life, about the people, “good people,” he said, “some gone” (always the probability, I thought, when one lives long and, thus, outlives others), “many still here,” about the clergy, “a few good,” he smiled, “and others…” his voice trailed off, the clarity of his less than enthusiastic opinion needing not the clutter of more words.

He looked at me, “I hear you’re pretty good,” I blushed, “so I’m glad we met.” In that word, “met,” I heard in his voice a wistful air, like a breath from a thin place, longing for more time, yet at peace in knowing, accepting the unlikelihood of that prospect. A peace that was confirmed as I listened to you, Bill, talk with your father of a moment about a year ago when he was near dying, both of you speaking of “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding,” for, as it is of God, we neither can conceive it nor can we create it, but we can receive it and, in our reception of God’s gracious gift, relish it.

Carrington and I made a date for another visit. It was to be this coming Tuesday. He may have known something, for, this past Tuesday, as I was leaving, he called me back to give me a list of the things he wanted to talk about when we met again, then saying, repeatedly, “I’ve had a good life.” That, I believe, is as fitting and as faithful a closing word to this world as there can be before passing through that thin place to the fullness of eternity.

So, as we have gathered to commemorate and to celebrate a great life and our great God, in the words of Paul, let us: Rejoice in the Lord always…The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything…And the peace of God surpassing all understanding will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.[2]

 

Footnotes:

[1] Philippians 4.7

[2] Philippians 4.4, 5b-7, amended and paraphrased

death has a new face

All Hallow’s Eve has past. The ghoulies and ghosties, skeletons and zombies all have been put in storage and out of sight for another year.

The next day, Saturday, November 1, All Saints’ Day in the Christian calendar, death had a new face. Brittany Maynard. A widely posted family snapshot shows her in a backyard patio setting, relaxing on a chaise lounge; her attractive, brown-haired, luminous-eyed, broad-smiled countenance peering up into the photographer’s lens, the proverbial picture of health and hope.

On New Year’s Day of this year, Brittany was diagnosed with inoperable and incurable brain cancer; later being given six months to live. She and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved from their California home to Oregon, which allows terminally ill persons to choose to end their lives with physician-prescribed lethal medication. Over weeks and months, Brittany became an advocate for the expansion of aid-in-dying state legislation beyond, in addition to Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Brittany’s death, perhaps more her choosing to die, not surprisingly, has evoked a range of responses, publicly expressed and privately stated.

Some have spoken and written of Brittany’s decision as one of courage in the offing of inevitable deterioration beyond, below any desired standard of quality of life. My friend, the Reverend Susan Mann Flanders, on Sunday, October 26, at St. Mark’s Church, preached a sermon, entitled, Love of God, Love of Neighbor, that addressed in poignant and powerful terms “suicide and assisted suicide in the decline of old age” (see www.stmarks.net > Worship > Sermons). Though Brittany was 29, given her medical diagnosis, the difference between her circumstance and that of the profoundly debilitated aged, I think, is a number.

Others, largely, but not only the staunchly religious, have questioned, some more vigorously than others, what they deem a usurpation of the purview of the deity or perhaps fate to determine the end of life. In interpreting, rightly, I think, the counsel of Psalm 39.4 (Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is) not as a desire to know the timing of death, but rather a plea for the grace to live wisely in the face of the reality of its inevitability, some would adjudge Brittany’s actions as rash, if not also faithless.

Still others, and the large majority of commentators, whether or not claiming to understand Brittany’s choices, and, even in that, confessing their conundrum if ever faced with a similar situation, express a palpable depth of lament.

As I think of Brittany and Dan, I honor them, each and both, for what I perceive as their belief in a life of love well lived, which, in the lengthening shadow of her inescapable increasing suffering and, therefore, their shared loss, led them to choose her dying day.

I also think of my mother, Lolita, nearly seventy years Brittany’s senior, who, long having journeyed into the insentient wilderness that is Alzheimer’s disease, for the past ten years has been confined to bed. My mother’s body with heartbeat strong is still with me, but her mind and her conscious awareness of her surroundings and her maternal acknowledgement of me are far away and long past. With her continued breath of life, I have come to know loss like death, provoking in me a so-far interminable, heretofore unimaginable sorrow. At times, with humor macabre – for a smile, however wan and grim, interrupts, if for an instant, my soul’s anguished weeping – I consider that my mother is well on her way to proving that she is God, for she is eternal and incomprehensible.

A week ago, a friend referred me to the book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The author, Atul Gowande, M.D., M.P.H., writes eloquently of what some, I imagine, would call advances of medical science that prolong life, even in our waning days, without “a sliver’s chance of benefit.” Recently having enrolled my mother in hospice care, I find comfort in Dr. Gowande’s counsel.  I also confess, no doubt somewhat selfishly that I might engage fully my grieving, wanting to know, quite apart from the psalmist’s intent, the measure of my mother’s days.

Until that moment comes, I wait. And in this moment and forward, again, I honor Brittany and Dan.