A plea for theological modesty: 12-26-16
Finding ourselves in holy discomfort: 12-28-16

What do we speak of when we're dying? 12-27-16

2012-01-28 06.19.31

When people know they are dying, know their time is coming to an end in a matter of months, if not weeks or days, what do they want to talk about, to remember, to re-think in their sunset days?

The answer from the hospice nurse who wrote this CNN piece is pretty simple: "Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

"They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying, fluid gurgling in their throats, they reach their hands out to things I cannot see and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy, Mother."

Faced with our own mortality and either the perceived immensity or meaninglessness of our own lives, all the loose, wandering embers of the fires of memory are stirred and we seem to dive deeply into what was most important to us -- assuming our pain is controlled enough to allow it.

One of the things I think this tells us is that however much we understand ourselves to be spiritual beings, we also come at the end of our time to recognize that we are physical beings who are deeply attached to what we can see, feel, smell, remember.

There is something divine about what is material in the sense that it is so mysterious, so almost-magical. The apparent solidity of the desk on which my keyboard sits as I type this is really mostly empty space around electrons and protons and neutrons and subatomic particles. It's the same with the people we love. It's the same with our own bodies. But it's through this mystery that we experience one another and the world around us. It's through this mystery that we begin to imagine not just the miracle of the natural world but also the supernatural.

When our time on Earth is short, we return to what we know, to the people and places we have loved, to our experiences with those people and places and we relive what we can.

I serve on the board of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, and our hospice nurses and chaplains will tell you very much what Kerry Egan, author of the CNN piece, has written: ". . .people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.

"We don't live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories. We live our lives in our families: the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends. This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, this is where our purpose becomes clear."
Yes, we are spiritual people. But -- against what the old gnostics would have us believe -- we understand what that means via contact with the physical world.
(The sunset photo here today I took a couple of years ago from the deck of the home of friends in Kansas.)
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As the world prepares to commemorate in 2017 the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis is seeking to reform the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, especially the Curia, or group of Vatican leaders. The Reformation started by Martin Luther wasn't an easy change, nor will the reformation Francis seeks within Catholicism. But as the pope says, "reform is not an end unto itself, but rather a process of growth, and above all, conversion.”

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P.S.: If you missed it, my latest column for Flatland, KCPT-TV's digital magazine, was published on Christmas Day and can be found here.


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