I met this person at a funeral.
‘I am dying and this funeral has made me think about how I want to be celebrated’.
They were upset (I have no time for retrospectively told preachers’ stories that smooth out all of the wrinkles), but on this occasion, calm.
They talked about how, when they first received their diagnosis, they were very sad, but also angry: how could they go ‘before their time’. They may have even said they were angry at ‘God’ or their idea of ‘god’- I don’t fully remember all the contours of the conversation; just the integrity and honesty.
Initially- very unwillingly, they joined a group at the local hospice. For a lot of activities they were asked to be part of, they just could not see the point. However, gradually things ‘clicked’ and they talked about the relief they felt being around people who were living with (yet dying from) terminal illness; no one avoided them, stuck for words or adopted a concerned expression and awkwardly said ‘how are you’.
They said something like ‘I felt normal once again’.
Although this person had a faith background, they were just not sure about where they were now.
Several things struck me:
-The person’s total honesty: there was no pretence.
-The stage where they were at had led to an absence of self pity.
-The ‘vicar’, was somehow considered ‘safe’- someone who listened and was accepting. Sometimes I wonder what ‘use’ I am- encounters like this help me to see it.
I wish I could get to this place….
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
I like the sense of peace, space & ‘thank you’ in this. You can’t beat Wendell Berry.
I need to hear this…
Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.
The 2nd XI in our village have struggled for players this season. So desperate have they been that I have turned out for them a couple of times. Once, a game only happened as I was able to make a team of 7 (and being asked to bat and keep batting finished with a death defying 7* off 65 balls that enabled us to make a decent score off the full 40 overs)I have also been asked a more couple of times and been unable to commit.
I made myself and my 2 sons available for this weekend should they need me. There only turned out to be two spaces and my two sons were picked, leaving me out of the side.
There are good reasons for that, apart from having little ability: my shoulder is sore and I am struggling to throw. Also, given the number of games that the 2nds have, I may well get another shout later in the season when the football season kicks in.
But, this is as it should be: providing a start so that your children can eventually overtake you. And- if you are fortunate, watching the same thing happen with their children.
And, being happy about that…and being both a merciful scorer and umpire in the same game…
Regular readers of this blog will know how the music of this man has often been a guide to me. I have been privileged to host him in concert twice and to see him many more times.
This song has been lifting me up and filling me with hope these last couple of weeks.
You have watched and read words from ministers who have got sniffy about funerals. Almost like it was their funeral and they were the gatekeeper and the bereaved family mere supplicants to the minister’s event.
You have heard many ministers talk about a funeral has to have ‘x’ or ‘y’ content to make it ‘Christian’, or they could not lead it (yet most of us manage to act in a representative function without following a prescribed form of words: Rotary Club speech, school prizegiving, chairing a community meeting etc etc etc anyone?).
I’m helping with a funeral today. I say ‘helping’ as the family are doing it themselves. They have just asked me to give them advice about the shape and the words they will use. I will close the funeral in a minor way, with something appropriate reflecting their late family member – their respect for the local church-and a ‘spiritual but not religious’ theme. Funeral- being a chaplain enables you to adapt.
As a chaplain, and knowing the family, this feels totally natural. Past discussions with some ministers about whether one ‘should’ do such a funeral seem to belong to another planet.
Being present and available,showing love and understanding I think gets over more ‘Christian content’ than insistence on a mere form of words anyway.
Sometimes it is the hands that you notice the most.
A partner has been confined to a ward- age and memory are taking their toll. What they have done in the last day or hour is not remembered and their past is being slowly erased- sometimes to the extent that even their partner of many years is slowly disappearing from all recognition.
Often you can see the strain in the face of the partner who remembers and who has come to visit. Many times they will talk of their own health issues as they struggled to care for the other before submitting to the inevitable hospital admission. Often you will feel the pain.
Yet they sit there, one often barely aware of what is going on around them; holding hands. You see the comfort and the love passing between each of them. There are no words to explain or comfort- only touch.
Many other things have gone or are fading, but each time you see this happening you think ‘You still have so much’.
I was working on some material for a retirement course last week when I came across this Greek fable. It is well known, but bears repeating:-
Aesop was sitting by the road one day when a traveller asked him, “What sort of people live in Athens?“
Aesop replied, “Tell me where you come from and I will tell you what sort of people you will find in Athens.”
Frowning, the man replied, “I am from Argos and the people there are most unpleasant.”
“I am sorry to tell you,” said Aesop, “that you will find the people in Athens much the same.”
A few hours later another traveller came down the road, and he too stopped and asked Aesop, “Tell me, my friend, what are the people of Athens like?”
Again Aesop replied, “Tell me where you come from and I will tell you what sort of people you will find in Athens.”
Smiling, the man answered, “I come from Argos, and the people there are very pleasant.”
“I am happy to tell you, “said Aesop, ‘that you will find the people of Athens much the same’.
He sat next to his coach as his team were batting.
‘I’m not very good’. He began.
I listened as the coach went through his good qualities, the areas he could improve on and the areas where he was improving. He spelled out the passage that his cricketing career could take and what the club would do for him. All of his words were laced with reassurance.
Then I watched as this boy played: he was below the age group, but played as the side were short. He did bowl a number of good balls as well as a few wides, as you would expect from a child of his age.
I commented to the coach that he was good and had potential. The coach agreed and then summed up the boy’s character ‘His head goes down too quickly when he bowls badly: he needs to be encouraged’ He said with a smile.
I left the ground thinking that this boy could well improve and find that he is good at cricket. Mostly the reason he will do that will be down to this coach.
Once again I thought ‘It is not too hard is it?’ And wondered why many managers cannot manage to get to know their staff well and then coach them. Sometimes yelling at people & generally being hard is seen as ‘good management.’
I have seen too many casualties…
I went to church last Sunday evening and it was lovely. I wan’t expecting it to be, but it just was: people, worship without artifice, simplicity and closeness.
At the start, they used a prayer of confession that really hit me. Sometimes these don’t: they are very ‘male’ and almost shaming. This wasn’t:-
Break us where we are proud.
Make us where we are weak.
Shame us where we trust ourselves.
Name us where we have lost ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord.