I woke during the night, a while ago, with my mind racing. It was very dark. Heavy clouds hid the moon and stars. Our rural area has no street lights. And at 3:00 a.m., no neighbouring houses had any lights on.
Rather than tossing and turning, and probably waking Joan, I got out of bed, and went to our living room where I could look out the front windows.
I could see a few lights across the lake. I could make out the vague reflective sheen of the lake, the darker bulk of the hills on the far side, some humps that might be bushes in our garden.
Nothing moved. It was very peaceful. Almost holy.
` After a while, calmed and quieted, I decided I could go back to bed.
Feeling my way
I turned back into the house. It was, I discovered, much darker than the world outside. I could almost push the darkness around with my hands.
I knew the route back to my bed. Turn left around the coffee table in the middle of the floor. Turn right around the fireplace hearth, with its collection of fragile souvenirs picked up in various parts of the world. Turn left through the bedroom door. Left past the closets. Right to my side of the bed…
I knew where these things were. But not how close I was to them.
I shuffled through the darkness, in inch at a time, feeling my way with my feet. (Remember Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett show?)
And I wondered if this was what the end of life was like. No longer feeling confident. Shuffling uncertainly towards an invisible doorway, through territory that suddenly feels unfamiliar, strange, even alien.
It’s not enough to know where I’m going, if I don’t know how I’ll get there.
Will I fall over something inportant? Will I break something? Or worse, break someone?
Will I recognize that symbolic doorway to the next room when I reach it?
I don’t often have these thoughts. I’m not obsessed with death -- although I admit that I think about death a lot more in my eighties than I did in my twenties. No matter how healthy I feel, these days, I know that my life has a time limit. I can avoid doing stupid things -- like free-climbing cliffs, say -- but I can’t rewrite my DNA. I may have two years left; I may have 20. Whatever the number, it’s one less every year.
Many people have had near-death experiences -- often the result of some catastrophe they’ve survived. . They’ve described their experiences. But I know no one who has been through a normal, slow, fade-away death and come back to tell us about it.
Not even Jesus, the only documented instance of someone being officially dead for 48 hours, said anything about what it was like on the other side of that doorway.
Lacking any better metaphor, therefore, I imagine those final days as shuffling through darkness towards an uncertain destination.
On that particular night, I did find my bed again. I did fall back to sleep. And I did wake up the next morning.
But some morning, I won’t. And I can’t help wondering what it will be like.
Even if I can’t tell anyone about it.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week’s column celebrated friendship. James Russell offered his own definition: “A friend is someone who shows up when you need them. I’ve found a surprisingly large number of people to be friends.”
Tom Watson suggested, “Friends come in all shapes and sizes. It's as if we have a number of concentric circles around us. Those closest to us are in the innermost of those circles, others in further out circles. The test of true friendship is: I need something and it's three o'clock in the morning; who do I call?”
Isabel Gibson balked a little at extending friendship to some non-humans:” OK, I'm in, but only if I can exclude the squirrels who dig up my tulip bulbs and eat my magnolia blossoms.
“More seriously, friendship is a great and refreshing target. Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.”
Steve Roney challenged my basic theme: “You realize, of course, that you are dissenting from fundamental Christian doctrine in placing philiosabove agape? You write: ‘Friendships are also more than the dispassionate, almost cerebral, association often lauded as agape, one of the four Greek terms for love.’
“But Jesus calls us expressly to agapeas the first and overriding commandment. That’s about as unequivocal and authoritative as a statement can be in Christian terms.
“And surely you should indeed care deeply about to-you-nameless ‘refugees in Somalia, or flood victims in Iran, or opioid junkies in downtown alleys.’ Having lived in non-Christian cultures, it is starkly evident to me that this caring for the stranger or the adversary is exactly what distinguishes Christian morality from any other.
“Agapeis also, I think, the foundation of our belief in human equality, human rights, and brotherhood, on which our political system is based. Our political system works because agaperequires this assumption of us; everyone else, even our enemies, has rights.
“Friendship, for all its good points, is, as you point out, a conditional love. So, if someone no longer, in your opinion, deserves your respect, philiosis not present. No love for enemies, orthose you consider your inferiors, or of no value to you, or you do not know, or who do you wrong.”
Too bad the writer of Psalm 148 didn’t know about things like solar systems.
2 Within the womb of the heavens, the orb of earth leaps to praise its Creator.
3, 4 As the pearl necklace of the planets swings around the sun,
as the shining oceans embrace the continents,
so do all living things praise the source of life.
5 God expressed a thought, and the thought took life.
6 God wanted to speak, and the Word became flesh and lived among us.
7 In that Word was holiness,
the spirit that makes every life more than the sum of its chemicals.
From the tiniest plankton in the sea to the great whales,
from the ants that burrow in the dust to the eagle that soars in the heavens --
all owe their existence to God.
8 Fire and hail, snow and frost, sun and drought, wind and rain--
in God, all things work together for good.
9 The mighty mountains erode into rich silt;
fruit trees and cedars aerate the atmosphere.
10 The dung beetle depends on the wastes of others;
birds and breezes carry seeds to new orchards.
11 No one is cut off from the profligate generosity of God,
neither presidents throned in offices nor derelicts huddled under bridges.
12 For in God there is neither male nor female, old nor young, black nor white.
13 All have been equally created by God;
their lives all witness to God's goodness.
14 God scatters new life among weeds and rocks.
And all of creation responds with rejoicing.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet