I know a few people, including several Food For Faith followers, who are nearing death.
Some of these are elderly and accepting that their life on earth is naturally coming to an end.
Others, well before their time, are struggling with poor health and living with diagnoses of terminal illness.
I learn a lot from these people. All of them are in some way, in the words of Dylan Thomas, rightly raging against the dying of the light.
The Swiss-American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her work on death and dying helps us to appreciate the rightness of our rage when faced with death, whether it be the death that comes at the end of earthly life or the many daily deaths in the form of loss, separation and failure.
In those I know who are preparing for death, or experiencing any form of loss, I see the signs of healthy movement towards death: (in the model presented by Kübler-Ross) denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I’m aware that I have many more years behind me than ahead of me since I’m not expecting to reach 120 years of age.
I used to think, when considering a possible adventure: I’ll do that one day. Now I realise that I probably won’t – there’s just not enough time to do the many things on my bucket list.
Increasingly these days when I’m giving time to prayer, I feel regrets and hurts. I feel the aches and pains when I pray. I’m aware of the missed opportunities and future anxieties when I pray.
Then I realise that my mistake here is that I’m focussed on me and MY regrets, MY hurts, MY aches, MY anxieties.
All these thoughts might seem a clumsy introduction to Jesus on Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John. No doubt it seemed like an ordinary day as this little group of friends strolled the hour or so up the hill. As they hiked they would have been chatting about ordinary stuff, anxieties, aches hurts and regrets. The focus would have been on themselves as it is in so much of our conversation.
What happened atop that little mountain shifted their focus and they together tasted the life-beyond-death for which they longed. They touched eternity and were caught up in the life that was more real than their earthly concerns: a brighter light and (as the divine voice from heaven announced): You are in the presence of the divine, my Son Jesus. Listen to Him.
Speaking of older people preparing for death I’m thinking of Pope (Emeritus) Benedict (95 next month) who perhaps more than any other person has helped me to appreciate the meaning of the Transfiguration. He writes:
“The mountain is the place of ascent – not only outward, but also inward ascent; it is a liberation from the burden of everyday life, a breathing in of the pure air of creation; it offers a view of the broad expanse of creation and its beauty; it gives one an inner peak to stand on and an intuitive sense of the Creator.” Jesus of Nazareth Volume II
Whenever we are faced with death we are experiencing the often unwelcome and painful invitation to ascend this mountain of hope and light.
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