I want to begin by thanking Adrien for leading on Sunday. It was truly a blessing to be able to sit in the pews and respond. It was especially nice to not know what was going to happen. Usually, I spend all week wrestling with a topic, so Sunday morning is merely a recitation of my thoughts and management of whatever surprises come from the conversation. This time, I had to respond in the moment, which always produces more honesty. Fortunately, Adrien had some good questions. In a way, he asked us to give our testimony in four parts, from the epiphany that our faith needed to change in some way, to the living out of that faith. His final question was a challenge: Imagine lying on your death bed and all your life’s work has disappeared; what three things do you know to be true? Here are my answers, with some explication.
Preamble: As I said on Sunday, we have to recognize that any time we are talking about the end (or the beginning), we’re really talking about right now. Imagining the future (or the past) gives us an image of how our present might be. If we take that apocalypse, that vision of the future, seriously, it has the power to transform us to make that vision our present reality. The kindom of God is near at hand, indeed.
1) You had it pretty good. I’m the sort of person that might want to imagine what I will say as I lay dying; this question makes perfect sense to me. I’m the kind of idealist that turns sideways into pessimism. If what is doesn’t measure up to what might be, then all is loss. So I need to remind myself that I have it pretty good. No matter what transpires between now and death, that will probably still be true. I was, as they say, born on third base, but I have also been blessed with a lot of great people in my life: friends, partners, teachers, and mentors. So this is, first, a call to thankfulness. But thankfulness is the beginning of compassion and a nudge toward justice. Because I have it pretty good, much of which has nothing to do with any choice that I have made, I have to share, to try to give more to others who haven’t had it so good. I’m not always sure what that means, the logistics of the abundant life, but starting out with the recognition of what I have is the first step on that path.
2) There’s nothing better than a good piece of fruit. When I wrote this, I was being a little flippant. Time was short and I couldn’t think. I was going to write, “I like pie,” which is true, but I started thinking about what I like about it, and what I like about eating in general. That led me to fruit. A lot of fruit isn’t so great: a little bland, not the right texture, maybe a little bitter. But part of the joy of eating fruit is that it is somewhat of a surprise when you find that perfect piece. I get joyful at the snap of a crisp apple, the tang of a slightly underripe banana, or the tart burst of each drupelet on a blackberry. This is, in part, an encouragement to regain my health, but more than that it is a call to enjoy the simple pleasures of this material world, to seek out that moment of perfection, however fleeting it might be.
3) Be not afraid. Maybe this isn’t following the rules, but if I’m dying soon, I probably don’t care. Much “truth” is actually a truth claim, a promise made. Whether it will be kept, who knows? On a death bed, it seems a worthwhile encouragement, a promise to myself. But I know that, in order to go into the ether without fear means living without fear now, to exorcise those demons all along the way. I allow myself too much fear. Fear that I am not enough and the world is not enough. Fear that people will find out I’m a fraud and, when they do, everyone will leave. And all of this drags me down and I might as well be on my death bed imagining what clever things I might say. But because this isn’t my death bed and this is really about now, I I can (and I must!) confront those fears, to name them and ask where they are from, to make peace with them instead of fighting or suppressing them.
A former CitC pastor asked us to engage in the Buddhist practice of meditating on our own corpse. This, it seems to me, is the same exercise. If your life has been lived and you are looking back, what is really left? Buddhists might say nothing, but those of us who belong to the Way see it as dying so that we might live. We rehearse death, not only so that we know what to do when our time comes, but so that we see the time we have more clearly and live in it more fully. Thank you, Adrien, for the opportunity to remember and imagine and know the truth.