This has been a glorious spring. One morning, a couple of weeks ago, I went out to walk around my garden.
The dogwood tree stood as a pillar of creamy white blossom. The hawthorn tree celebrated with a joyful chorus of deep pink flowers. Azaleas flamed fluorescent -- white, orange, red, violet, yellow. Purple allium heads tried to look like computer visualizations of a coronavirus. The rhododendrons toasted the morning in deep claret and white.
Lilacs, shaded from Ming to Wedgewood, ensured that this was not a fragrance-free zone.
Tiny yellow, white, and blue flowers cascaded down the rock garden. A septet of humming birds danced around their feeders. A great blue heron rose lazily from the lake below, trailing his legs behind him.
And there was evening and there was morning, in the four billionth year, and God saw that it was good.
Joan would have loved it. She would have rejoiced in her garden. I could not imagine how she could willingly leave it.
A better place
Conventional pietism would answer that she knew she was going to an even better place. Where the streets were paved with gold, and everyone walked hand in hand with Jesus.
And where she could somehow miraculously play a harp. (Joan claimed no musical talent at all.)
If I sound cynical, sorry -- I don’t believe in that kind of heaven anymore. Neither did Joan. She was far ahead of me in rejecting conventional notions of an Almighty Grandfather sitting a cloud who ran the world like a model railroad.
Many people believe, from personal experience, that loved ones do not just disappear after death.
A friend described how her father, who had died nine years before, helped her up the final slopes of Kilimanjaro. Another said her husband still gives her advice when she needs it. A third tells of a dying aunt happily greeting relatives he couldn’t see.
They may be right. I hope they’re right. Their experience is their experience. It’s just not mine.
I remember when our son Stephen was dying, almost 40 years ago. We had gathered around his hospital bed, trying not to weep too audibly.
“Do they know I’m dying?” he asked his sister, while Joan and I were out of the room.
“Yes,” she assured him.
He gave us a new perspective, when we were all together again: “You’re crying because you’re losing one person,” he said, “I’m losing everyone.”
He wasn’t expecting to hover invisibly among us for years to come.
I think Joan felt similarly. She was dying, and she knew it. By her words and her actions, she indicated that she expected death to be the end of life. And she accepted that. Even if we didn’t.
The fact is, every life ends. That’s life. Some lives end in misery and pain. Some end in squalor and suffering. And some go calmly and peacefully.
At least Joan had a choice about how she would die. And to paraphrase a tribute from the Bible, she left at peace “with God and with man.”
Dylan Thomas wrote an eloquent poem about the death of his father: “Do not go gentle into that good night/but rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Joan chose to go gentle.
Goodnight, sweetheart. Sleep well.
Copyright © 2020 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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“Now you've gone and done it,” regular correspondent Isabel Gibson told me after last week’s column came out. “Folks will send you all sorts of tributes….
“So let me add mine. I know my mother read your books and blog faithfully. I don't know what she got out of the books but she kept them in her ever-diminishing library as she aged. When she died they went to her congregation's library.
“Like her, I read your blog and value your mix of thoughtfulness and poetic perspective on the world.”
Isabel concluded, “Thanks for this piece - another good reminder to ‘keep up’ with saying thank you to people. We never know how long they have left, nor how long we ourselves have.”
I didn’t write that column looking for tributes. But lots of assurances came back. Dawne Taylor wrote, “Never doubt that you have been appreciated and made many a difference. You've taught us to see faith through the eyes of everyday life -- often with humour, usually with insight, and always with wisdom Appreciated? Made a difference? You betcha. Take a bow.”
Barb Landowski indulged in some metaphor: “Count me as part of your garden. (Although I probably need more compost.) After losing faith and finding no comfort in my Catholic upbringing, I had abandoned all pretense that God could provide any positive input in life. After reading the Bible, it was worse. I only saw how little it related to today's world and how poorly women were treated. While I no longer pursue the religious activity I previously did, I look forward to your emails. They have meaning to me and connect God to real life.”
Dorothy Haug and Bob Mason both expressed thanks for last week’s paraphrase of Psalm 104.
Last week, I referred to a minister who said that An Everyday God had enabled him to continue his theological studies. Allan Baker went a step farther: “It was that book that got me INTO seminary!”
Laurie Parker referred to a couple of other books: “Your books Everyday Parables and More Everyday Parables changed my life and changed how I connect with God. Your theme of taking everyday items and finding spiritual meaning in their use was mind-boggling to me decades ago.
“Since then I have used your premise in youth groups to inspire adolescents to make that connection between God and the world. I used your approach when preaching as a pulpit supply leader. Once I made an entire room burst into laughter with an inspiration that came to me in the moment about spiritual meaning in hole punchers. Just this week I used the idea of finding meaning in everyday objects in a college course that I'm teaching.
“Like ripples in a pond, your writing has influenced so many more people than you could ever imagine.”
A few psalms stand out, for me. Psalm 8, one of the readings for this coming Sunday, is one of them. I had a hard time choosing one of several paraphrases.
My God, my God! How amazing you are.
I would describe you in terms of the stars or the skies,
the forest or the farthest reaches of the universe,
But they are your creation, and you are their creator.
You are all creation.
Our weapons, our bombs, our power to destroy, dwindle into insignificance
compared to the cry of a newborn baby.
On a starry night, with your glory sprinkled across the skies,
I stare into the infinite ends of your universe, and I wonder,
Who am I?
Why do I matter?
Why do you care about me?
We humans are less than specks of dust in your universe,
our timeframe shorter than a second in the great clock of creation;
Yet you have adopted us.
You have given us a special place in the your family;
you have trusted us to manage your earth, on your behalf --
to look after not just the sheep and the oxen, but also the wolves that prey on them;
To tend the birds, the fish, and even creatures we have never seen at the bottom of the sea.
My God, my God! How amazing you are!
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
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 (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)