On death and life – Part five

One of the leitmotifs of these columns has been our duty to ourselves, the discovery of who we really are. There are some principles which impact on this journey which is probably the most noble we shall ever undertake. One is that we’re not here to copy anyone else or be conditioned by them. Another is that we all have a ‘dark’ side – we are human, after all – and so are likely to do very silly things which the Church calls ‘sin’. Yet another is that the journey really can’t begin until we’ve learned to stand outside ourselves and look in and see what we’re really up to without being judgmental. And then, we have to accept that as we grow in all this we shall be subject to changes as we shed and gather in our understandings of ourselves. Those changes may only be surface things, or the product of the ageing process as some parts of ourselves become more or less important.

Circumstances may tease from us understandings which we’d never explicated in the way we do now though they’re entirely consistent with whom we’ve always been. So the fella who, at 14, carried with his brother an injured sheep from a rocky gorge to safety, who clawed raw clay from the ground to make figurines, who would have forgone ordination to save the life of a lizard, who thinks of all trees as ‘good’, breathing as God made them whether or not they bear fruit, and who then became a Franciscan Companion, now understands, thanks to the littleness of some so-called ‘men of God’, that his altar is the high altar of the world itself, that a priest needs no sanctuary in a building when he has the sanctuary of earth, sea and sky, and that God is the Life within all life.

The search for self is not ego-elevation. It’s the search, ultimately, for truth and justice to oneself, to understand who it is that God has so marvellously made. It’s about searching for what will truly satisfy the desires of our hearts, for those ends are a mirror reflection of our deepest selves, the source.

What about you? How, if at all, have you changed over the years? What have you learned about yourself? Did you ever have a rude awakening? Are you right brain or left brain or a subtle balance? Are you not enough serpent, not enough dove? You know, we’re like a river, you and me. We had our origin in the high mountains. We have our end in the open sea. But, as they say, no one can jump into the same river twice. None of us are stagnant pools. We flow and flow as creation intended.
Last week I reflected on death – yours and mine. That too was prompted by experience. Five years ago, I had a taste of dying, a dry run, a dress rehearsal, following a heart attack entailing a five-day holiday in the Intensive Care Unit at QEH. It came on suddenly and, as I was carted off in the ambulance, I remember saying to myself ‘Here we go, sunshine. Over the top.’ The ICU became the world, all of us patients drawing strength from one another in our half-aliveness and half-deadness, in our aloneness, with all our hopes and dreams put on hold, and relying, even in the humble bed pan, upon others; but also, in playing out the mystery of our lives and deaths, touched by the ever-loving Christ in human hands, the hands of the priests and priestesses who administered the host to us in insignificant aspirins in a pot, and the chalice in an injection of morphine to ease our pain. It was a betwixt and between world where the wretchedness of the human condition ever presented itself, but where we soldiered on, as humans do, and angels in uniform captured eternity for us in their smiles even when we slept. Those smiles meant so much. I wonder if the nurses realise that even when they themselves feel down, as we all do in the world on times, they are the guardians of all we hold sacred.

They see death so often and doubtless come to the ward enteric coated. Yet they come in true love and true charity, asking nothing, expecting nothing, but simply giving in the routine of their lives while other forces determine whether we go or stay. And all of this not out of the world but in the whole world represented by its fragment in a hospital ward – and all our lives, doctors, nurses, patients, criss-crossing and over-lapping as people do in what we know as the world. Lying there, how could I not give them my blessing and gratitude for their hospitality, which is the essence of prayer – me, coming or going, a casual visitor who rested in the oasis of all your lives in that Ward. Shari, Ariale, Monica, Edgar, Krystal, Kathryn, Brenda, nurses Alleyne, Coltrust and Gibson, and Sister Skeete I remember you. Until.
Go safely, then – until the next time.

A night prayer from the boundary: Brother Jesus, you wept at the death of a friend and overturned tables in anger at wrong ... assure me again that in becoming more like you I come closer to my true self, made in the image of outpouring love, born of the free eternal Spirit (‘Celtic Benediction’).

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