Archive for the ‘Death and Dying’ Category

Holidays and The Dave Test

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Question number three: “Can I avoid using stained glass language?”  You can find it here:

Lessons at the End Requiem for a Parent

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Lessons at the End: Requiem for a Parent

Trust God. Trust God with your loved ones. Trust God with your own life. Trust God in their brokenness and in ours.

Ragged endings and hope-shaped lives

Monday, May 16th, 2011

When I was a teenager I loved reading biographies.  (I still do in fact, but I have much less time to devote to it.)

One of the things that fascinated me was the way in which people died.  It was probably a precocious neurosis, but in looking back on it, I think my preoccupation with the way people’s lives ended was also rooted in something for which we all long: for our lives to make sense, to mean something, to end logically, to finish in a way shaped by the same life-long dreams and convictions motivated us.  So, when I got to the end of those biographies, I hoped to find some defining final words or noble action.

The truth, of course, is that most of our lives have a ragged ending.  I’ve been reminded of that a great deal this month:

  • A dear friend and colleague stood up for what he believed to be the shape of the Kingdom and, having resigned his parish on principle, discovered that he had colon cancer and died only a few months later.
  • A former advisee and student graduated three or four years ago, served a single stint as a hospital chaplain, and died of breast cancer.
  • One of the students enrolled in our direction program had barely finished half of the process when she died of a massive heart attack.
  • And, then, this week two colleagues from my days at the Cathedral died —- one from yet another protracted battle with cancer — the other, alone in his home on the way to serve as a lifeguard at St. Alban’s Boys School.

The stories are only illustrative — the stuff of my own meditation.  But the larger truth remains.  Life ends this way more often than not.  We slip away in the fog of medication.  We lose ground to a grinding battle of attrition with disease.  The illness itself robs us of our faculties.  Or an accident claims our lives suddenly and without warning.

In reflecting on it, however, I’ve concluded that it is not how life ends that matters, but how we live it.  The Christian life is not a morality play, with bookend beginnings and endings.  It is a life shaped by resurrection hope that is ours in Christ and it is only in giving ourselves to that life-shaping hope that our stories deepen in their meaning.

So, on this day I give thanks for the lives of those friends whose stories ended unevenly and far too soon, but who witnessed to the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection:

  • For John
  • For Marissa
  • For Steve
  • For Erica

May light perpetual shine upon them and may God watch over and between us.  Amen.

The shape of the journey

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

We talked with dear friends who have a close relative facing the slow, certain deterioration that characterizes ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Quickly the conversation turned to the question of what our prayers can reasonably include and the purposes of God in a moment like this.  It resonated deeply with the news I received today that one of my students died at the end of last month from a rare, aggressive cancer that claimed her life after just 5 or 6 years of active ministry.

If the purpose of life is to secure a relationship with God that makes our lives safe and enjoyable — and if the Christian journey is about getting God to side with us, fix our problems, and run interference for us — then both of these stories are a tragic indictment of God and of the Christian faith.  But, of course, that isn’t the point according to every deep, well-rooted Christian tradition.

The point of the journey is companionship with God and the purposes of God take shape around the spread of God’s reign over the lives and hearts of humankind.  Our well-being — which is firmly circumscribed by our mortality — is a secondary consideration.  That is why Ignatius of Loyola preferred the term “companions of Christ” for the order we know as the Jesuits.  The point of the Christian journey is not to secure God’s help with the lives we want to live.  It is about living lives that serve the purpose of God.  And indicting God for failing to fix our problems is a bit like indicting a general for failing to keep his army out of combat.

Does that mean that God is insensitive to our needs?  No.  But it does put the shape of the journey into perspective.  Occasionally we experience a cure, remission, or a reprieve in this life.  But complete healing is an enterprise that awaits us beyond the boundaries of this life.  And, whatever may happen to us now is something that can only be navigated by giving our lives back to God in the middle of whatever it is that we are experiencing.

Any interpretation of the Gospel that suggests otherwise misunderstands the shape of the journey.

What do I really believe happens when we die

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I was invited to contribute to a feature at called  “What do I really believe…”  The subject in this first feature is the question, “What do I really believe happens when we die?”

It isn’t a trivial question, nor is it purely academic.  The way any story ends decisively shapes what we make of everything that led up to the end; and the same is true of life.  And, while we don’t know in one sense what will happen, nor does anyone know in detail (how could you?), like any other set of choices, what we believe happens when we die, makes a huge difference in the way we live.

Put another way: The end may not justify the means, but it certainly shapes our choice of means.

So, you will find my contribution at:

And the front page of the feature at:

Join the conversation.  It is important to know what you believe about the way your own story ends.