The Art of Dying

When I first started doing ministry and chaplaincy work, I was faced with my own mortality. It didn’t take long for me to learn that death was real. My first funeral I officiated was my baptism into this new reality. I didn’t realize that the person we were honoring that day–that even their death–they were showing others the gift of life.
When a family member passes away, I encourage the family to remember to live well, working to dignify the way they’re approaching life.

I’ve seen it several times: even people who are young and have been given terminal news, those who have strived to live life withe dignity have a certain type of passing. I honestly can’t explain it.


“The great majority of people do not leave life in a way they would choose. In previous centuries, [people] believed in the concept of ars moriendi , the art of dying…. We live today in the era not of the art of dying, but of the art of saving life, and the dilemmas in that art are multitudinous.

Nuland contends…The dignity that we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives. Ars moriendi is ars vivendi : The art of dying is the art of living…. Who has lived in dignity, dies in dignity.”

by Harold Koenig: Dying, Grieving, Faith, and Family: A Pastoral Care Approach

What are some ways that we can enter into the art of dying (so that we can practice the art of living)?

  1. Take responsibility for your inner life, becoming aware of your true self.
  2. Deepen a life of spirituality and purpose (we all have a deep call in our lives)
  3. Love and forgive others well
  4. Take some risks in life that will contribute and make a difference in someone’s life
  5. Take some adventures…just do it

Make an appointment to talk with the Chaplain about these matters. 🙂

Today, may we give ourselves over to the Giver of Life and may we live with dignity and purpose.

Narrative Theology: Understanding the Big Picture

The Bible has a big picture story that is tantamount when trying to understand the small tidbits.  I remember reading a rabbi who said that you could understand the whole of the Bible by reading the first 3 chapters of Genesis.  There’s creation, fall/sin, redemption, and a new thing (renewal, consummation).  These are really big themes and they help when we’re trying to understand the small things.

I’ve needed help trying to wrap my mind around who Jesus is and why He matters.  Some say to keep it simple and maybe it is.  But it doesn’t seem simple to me to ask the questions and seek answers.

I still struggle to understand why Jesus died for our sins; meaning why it took death.  I know all the scriptures and have heard all the statements regarding the topic.  But I still wrestle with why it had to be this way.

NT Wright, a historian and theologian from England, has helped me understand some of the big pictures themes.  I’m currently reading “Simply Jesus:  A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters”.

He’s asking questions like who did Jesus think He was when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey?  Or that in some ways, the current culture is asking, “Who do YOU say that you are, Jesus?”

I grew up in church and I’m still asking, “Are you who they (gospel writers) say you really you are?”  If He is, there are deep implications for this.  For one, the Bible says that sin and death are defeated.  This implies that is some sense, sin and death don’t have the last words in our life.  That implies that you and I are immortal!  Think about that one for a moment.  What this looks like, I’m not completely sure.  But NT Wright keeps saying to look at the resurrected life of Jesus for hints.  It seems Jesus’ body is glorified and He then must ascend to the Father.  I often tell people who are grieving that in my faith tradition, we say that death doesn’t have the final say; that while it hurts to lose our loved ones and that death seems to be winning, it doesn’t have the final say.

As I discern next steps in my calling and ministry work, I’m faced with the question of who Jesus really is.  My calling and ministry work are in some ways forcing me to ask.  If I’m going to continue to devote the rest of my life to following Jesus and helping others follow him (and in some instances, trying to persuade others to follow Jesus), I need to keep digging into this question of who Jesus thought he was.  My life, career, way of being is at stake.

These next few weeks, you’ll see some posts related to the book I’m reading and how it’s impacting my thinking and living.

A Reflection on Death, Abundance, and Compassion

Today’s scripture readings have a few themes:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120617.cfm

  1.  Death
  2.  Abundance
  3.  comfort/compassion

Death

In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I struggled with panic attacks.  I had an immense amount of anxiety about dying.  This manifested itself in different ways, mostly through a fear of getting sick or having a heart attack.  A few factors contributed that I could think of.  One, I was a new father.  We had Christopher and David a year apart and I was pretty nervous about not being present or available to them.  This had symbolic meaning to me as a fear of abandonment.  I didn’t want to abandon my kids and see them struggle without a father and I also had to cope with my own fears of being left fending for myself.  Two, I was just starting to work as a corporate chaplain and the stories I was hearing were very overwhelming.  Three, lack of self care.  I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or exercising very well.  The result?  Panic attacks.  

Here’s what helped me:  

  1. Talking with a therapist.  I was able to talk about the pain of being abandoned and how much it hurt.  It helped me realize that, while I felt abandoned, I could learn new ways of parenting myself so that I’d know that I can handle whatever life might throw my way.  In spiritual terms, I learned that I was never alone and that the Higher Power (Jesus) would be with me.  Growing up latino and in a pentecostal home, seeing a therapist was a taboo because we were taught that we really didn’t “trust God”.  That was nonsense!  🙂
  2. Self-care.  For me, this meant getting 8 hours of sleep, staying away from fast food and greasy food, and cycling.  I took up road biking, lost 20 lbs, and felt great. I also started making time to take regular retreats throughout the year.  I have to plan them in advance and then stick to them.
  3. Community.  I needed more friends in my life that I could go to eat with, go to concerts, and just be silly and laugh.  I needed connection and deep friendships.  

Abundance

We grew up with not a lot of money so I developed a fear of not having enough.  It’s driven many of my financial decisions.  But as I think about life and God, the scripture is clear that God thinks in terms of abundance, not scarcity.  I’m not talking about or promoting a “prosperity gospel” where abundance is the sign that God loves you and that you are more special than others.  But God does care about abundance and wants to lack no good thing.  I’d be very wary if someone used this to try and make a case for materialism or consumerism.  That’s just bad theology.  I’m talking about being able to have an attitude and heart that is at rest with what we have and isn’t ruled by “stuff”.  Fear of not having can be very costly.  And it usually doesn’t get us what we really want. 

Comfort/Compassion

In each reading, there is provision and comfort for the hungry, the needy, and the sick.  Death is overcome.  Sickness is healed.  And there is a feast of table for all people.  Jesus has compassion on the crowd.  Some are sick.  Others are hungry.  We read about a God who cares about the daily stuff, about the burdens that we carry.  He is not a god who sits by idly.  Jesus is engaged with the people and is about making wrongs right.  

I’m not sure I wholeheartedly believe that God is that compassionate.  I feel like have to earn his abundance and comfort.  I feel like if I don’t perform well as a disciple, I will be mistreated.  When I feel this way, I look at a picture of my sons or a picture of “little Roy” and imagine how much God loves us.  I want to trust that love from a Heavenly Father who is in heaven, and yet breaking into my world to transform my heart and mind.  This the concept of grace at work.  This energy, favor, love that God bestows is His hearts’ disposition.  

Questions for Reflection

*What are you most afraid of these days?  Can you tell God about it?

*Where do you feel like you are lacking?  Ask the Great Shepherd to lead you beside still waters and restore your soul.  

*How might God want to comfort you today?  Tell him where the pain is.

Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.
May your new life fill us afresh.
May you cause to see how you are abundant in our lives.
May you have compassion on us.

Amen

Researching Mexican cultural traditions for the dead.  I’m specifically looking at how Mexicans (hispanics, mexican-americans) view cremation.  There are mixed views on it.  Cremation, however, is becoming more acceptable.

“According to beliefs in this culture, the dead return on certain days of the year and are remembered through special events. The body must be buried for this to occur as cremation is not a common option in the Hispanic culture.”

http://dying.lovetoknow.com/death-cultures-around-world/hispanic-culture-death-dying