We recently started a series of studies at my church on death and dying from a Christian perspective. It's a mid-week study; one session at noon for the "lunch bunch" and another in the evening after a shared supper. The study is being facilitated by the Pastor and I.
The one thing that really stood out in this past Wednesday's sessions (it was our first of nine) was the level of emotion that rose to the surface among the participants. That's understandable, I'm inclined to think, if for no other reason than that for the last 100 years or so, we've done everything we can, it seems, as a culture and as church, to remove death as far away from us as possible.
I remember when, a few months prior to his death, my father called me into his study, told me to sit down and write down a list he was going to give me. "What's the list for?" I asked. "It's a list of things to do when I die," he replied. It was a conversation I did not want to have; not at all. But yet, my father, in his wisdom, knew that it was a conversation that we had to have.
Yes, we've tried to banish death from our thoughts. A hundred years ago, the vast majority of people died at home. Now the overwhelming majority die in some sort of institution: hospitals, nursing homes, etc. And when a loved one dies, we're immediately (or pretty quick) shuffled out of the room, not to see our loved one again until they appear in a casket at the funeral home, or in the case of cremation, not until we're handing a small container holding their ashes.
According to Rob Moll, in his wonderful little book, The Art of Dying: Living Fully Into the Life to Come, we've lost the Christian practice of dying well. There are a number of reasons for that, cultural ones for the most part, due to shifts from agrarian to urban life, the incredible advances in medicine, and so forth. But regardless of the reasons, we as Christians have lost something when it comes to death.
In his book, Moll writes:
"There is an untapped reservoir of Christian belief about dying. Christians are people who claim to worship and have the life of the risen Son of God. A renewed practice of Christian dying should affect not just the dying and those caring for them, but will fundamentally affect church life and individual spiritual lives from beginning to end."The beginning point for recapturing a Christian view of death and dying is simply this: that we start talking about it openly and without fear of showing some emotion. That conversation will inevitably involve seeing how the biblical material might inform our views of death and dying. That conversation will recognize the central importance of death for Christian faith: that is, the death, and resurrection, of Jesus who is the Christ.
So let's start the conversation. Let's recover the spiritual practice of dying.