Close Encounters with Death


3 wakes this Lent is more than the usual for me … first it was Zewt’s Mom, then it was my friend Colin’s Dad, tomorrow night will be for someone closer to the family cousin Sally.

There are stories to be told for each of them. And when cousin Jenny told me of the final words cousin Sally shared … I was moved once again to “what really matters” here on earth and beyond.

I often say with a tinge of humor (and respectfully) that I “enjoy” (a better word is appreciate) going to memorial and funeral services. Not because I am a sadist, but I never leave them unmoved by the our mortality. I find myself humbled again and again … this year’s holy week begins with the news of a cousin who’s still in her early 40s “returning to the Lord” after battling with illness. We aren’t that close, and my memories of her are mostly when we spent more time during her younger days. The picture of her in my mind is the one whom I remember during those visits to her home especially during my teenage years.

The next thing I know, she’s battling with cancer. The last I heard the final days were especially hard. But one thing I know, she was READY to be with Jesus liberated from the confines of her present suffering. There’s little in me to want to seek for explanations. More and more … too many words are not helpful. Silence is appropriate. Prayer is a must. And valuing the presence of one another and God are crucial for times like this.

I was asked to lead in some songs for tomorrow evening’s memorial service. I will bring the guitar and prayerfully create the “space” where ALL of us can pause to remember cousin Sally’s life, re-look at our own, and respond to whatever God’s Spirit is saying to us.

All the “encounters” with Death and the reality of how fragile human life is the past weeks makes a lot of what I read and hear people talking about … very meaningless and immature. This is the way I feel. In the face of death, there’s a lot we think is important whether it’s our preferences or opinions are simply “rubbish” and a total waste of our time and energy. So, often we live everyday complaining about so much that isn’t worth the effort to even do so. One wonders, how vain and empty can we reduce ourselves to be ….?

Where is the true humility to REALLY face oneself and confront our inner demons (or egoistic self to put it more mildly)? We pride ourselves for being liberal or open minded when in actual fact we need a good kick in the butt. Facing Death does that to us sometimes, if it doesn’t then there’s a need for more than therapy .. a good dose of soul searching is the path we need to take.

Parker Palmer’s insight on the “empty self” has been bugging me the last one week … especially when he talks about how our selfish acts is our way of covering up or fill up “stuff” into a self which has nothing there. Many talk about self-discovery, and being “themselves” … but tragically a lot of it lands up in “emptiness”. Death forces us to face the nakedness of our futile attempts to cover up ourselves with “rubbish” decorated with superficial gibberish and sprayed with even “religious” or spiritual sounding perfume …. but at the end it still stinks …

This post is becoming a little incoherent. Mixed feelings and thoughts are clouding up my mental space. But in short … I’m getting sick and tired of the “rubbish” that I’m hearing and reading which in the light of death and true living (the kind that makes a difference for ourselves and those around us) really is meaningless …

What I’ve been thinking about more the past weeks are the relationships between children and their parents, the words exchanged when we are alive, the activities we do together with others, the amount of energy we spend in the “stuff” we are interested in, loved ones caring for those who have been ill, prayers and heart cries offered, hospital visitations, secret tears, silent frustrations, walks in the park appreciating butterflies, the little acts of kindness we offer to another which impact could last more than a generation, genuine questions about God, honest assessments of ourselves, words which won’t make any blog post (some will) but will probably be hidden scribbled in a private journal, the last words of a loved one before they go…. add to the list.

We don’t have to have a “personal close encounter with” death .. as in our own a near death experience before we change the way we think, and the stuff we value and the kind of life we should be living. There will always be opportunites for us to face the reality and the hard questions which “death” will pose us … And as one who believes I cannot ignore the “God factor” in these musings thus far … I want to be open to how Christ is shaping me even now. I want to “cut the fat” on the unhealthy way I have been choosing to live and speak, think and feel … I’m no sinless saint, I’m well aware of that (ask my wife, and kids, and those who have a special gift to point out my sins and mistakes) … but I’m one those tasted and am tasting grace which blows my mind and broadens my horizons on what being human (as well as a Christian) is all about.

Holy week is when Christ walks to the cross … on Good Friday. As his follower, I need to face my cross too … maybe I prefer to jump straight to Easter Sunday, skip the betrayals, and pain and suffering, and abandonment, …. but that’s not the way of Jesus. His way is through Death … nothing more, nothing less …

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