Life in the Midst of Death

June 11, 2004 — Leave a comment

Jen Lemen’s post for today is beautiful, and contains as much truth as any of the scriptures.

Several months ago I posted on serving as a pastor to an aging congregation, and the meaning of funerals for me. Jen begins to get at the reality of that existence in her story. There is something sacred in our encounters with the dying, something life affirming in the midst of death. When I am home in the shower and that shiver runs up my spine as I ponder my own mortality, the unknown of death seems overwhelming. Yet, when I am sitting beside the bed of the one who is struggling to breathe their last, for some reason the fear leaves and there is a recognition of God’s presence.

As Jen so eloquently says, death puts everything else in perspective. It places us in relationship to one another as the power dynamics that so characterize our lives are torn down. On the surface it may not seem so, since one party is dependent on the other for such basic needs and hygiene and the quenching of thirst. Yet, the caregiver finds themselves in a place as helpless as the dying. No matter what we do, the outcome is still the same. We work to alleviate suffering, while knowing that the ultimate power of restoration is not in our hands.

I continue to be amazed that this power of ordination leads others to invite me into their most sacred moments. How many times have I been a fly on the wall, being present for a family as a loved one dies only to know that I am receiving much more than the family. The ministry of presence is a powerful gift — both for the other and for the one being present.

I’m sitting in a booth at Cafe Coco listening to the twangy of a steel guitar as the latest incarnation of Buck Owens sings another roadhouse tune. On the television on top of the pie case, the funeral of Ronald Reagan is in progress in all it’s glory. The National Cathedral is full of men in black suits, and women in their finest attire, and a coffin that cost more than the yearly income of some poor folks in my town is draped with a flag. It is a national moment of recognition, a ritual in honor of a life.

Yet, the most sacred spaces are not filled with pomp and splendor. They are happening today in bedrooms, hospital rooms, and hospice residences throughout the world. The words aren’t flowery. There are tears and blood and urine and sweat intermixed. They aren’t particularly pretty. But God is present in the midst of them, helping some into a new place of being, and comforting those left behind.

May God be with you Anais.

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