Lately I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual reading. I try to read novels on our iPad too, but I keep being drawn to the stack of books next to my bed — “The Cloud of Unknowing,” “A Litany of Saints,” “Interior Castle,” “The Long Loneliness,” and the like. I guess I lean toward reading about what I think is at the core of everything else that’s going on — my interior life. I’ve come to rely on these books, and like them so much that I enjoy giving them to other people, which can be tricky when I look for my copy and I can’t find it.
If something is troubling me, maybe my adult kids are going through a breakup or stuck while finding their way, or I’m feeling overwhelmed by work, finances, or just life in general, I always randomly open one of these books and read what’s on the page I opened up to. I do that with the Bible sometimes too. Usually I find something — a paragraph or a sentence that resonates with what’s happening in my life. Then, being such a neurotic thinker, I wonder if I’m making the words fit my situation and they don’t really pertain at all.
Recently I received a copy of the new Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush book, “Walking Each Other Home.” It’s a sort of conversation between the two authors, who are also close friends, about death and dying and love. I can tell already that it’s going to go at the top of the Mount Everest of books on my bedside table.
Ram Dass, the great spiritual teacher who’s now 87, had a massive stroke 20 years ago and has aphasia, impairing his ability to speak. He writes in the book that the experience gave him the “gift of silence.” As he gets closer to death himself, he shares ideas and thoughts on the process of getting there.
He starts the preface by writing, “Dying is the most important thing you do in your life. It’s the great frontier for every one of us. And loving is the art of living as a preparation for dying.”
When I lived in Syracuse and worked closely with a lot of nuns and priests, most of them 20 years or so older than me, I had to attend a lot of funerals. I’m not good at funerals. I always assigned coverage of a funeral to another writer because I either knew the person or just knew I’d be upset by it. When a priest dies, at least in the Syracuse Diocese, at some point after the funeral Mass, all of his brother priests and the bishop gather around his casket and sing “Salve Regina” in Latin. It’s almost like a final serenade, and it really gets to me.
I did experience a fair amount of bedside vigils with friends who were dying, usually of cancer, or sometimes their bodies were just worn out. I knew I was on holy ground when I sat with them in hospice care or at their convent or rectory. They were usually quiet, but their lips would sometimes move silently as if in conversation, and I always wondered who they were talking to. There was a sort of peace with them while they did what could look like the work of dying.
The way to be with someone who’s dying is simple but hard. You don’t have to “do” anything, but you have to “be present.” And if we all knew how to do that with ease, the world would be a whole lot different.
Mirabai Bush writes in the book that she and Dass talked about how to be with a dying person.
“A dying person needs you to be fully there, just being, listening for what is needed with love and kindness, but not trying to impose ideas of how to die. Just being what he [Ram Dass] calls ‘a loving rock.’”
I think that dying takes away all the pretense that builds up between people. It doesn’t get much more real than when we’re confronted with the mortality of someone we love, or our own, I imagine.
We’re lucky to have spiritual guides to help us navigate what appears to be overwhelming on the surface. With all of these books to help us tackle life looming large, we can take from them the words we need when we need them.
The Federated Church announces its fall service hours this week. Sunday, Sept. 2, will be the last Sunday for summer hours, with a short service at 8 am and a full service at 9:30 am. Beginning Sunday, Sept. 9, through to next summer, there will be only one regular Sunday service, starting at 10:30 am. Special services that are held throughout the year will be announced separately, writes my Federated Church correspondent, Herb Ward. The Rev. David Berube, the church’s pastor, invites everyone to experience a service. The church choir is under the direction of the capable Peter Boak, music minister.
Union Chapel wraps up its summer services this coming Sunday as well, Sept. 2, at 10 am; the prelude begins at 9:40 am.
This week the chapel welcomes the Rev. Larry Christian Green Sr., who was pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Waterbury, Conn., from 1984 until his retirement in 2013. His sermon is titled, “Oh, Freedom.”
Born and raised in Virginia, Pastor Green worked as an environmental planner for the Virginia State Water Control Board before entering ministry. He served as pastor at the First Union Baptist Church of Richmond until 1984, when he moved to Connecticut. He was very active in the local community, and served as president of Grace Development Corporation of Waterbury, which developed and operates Grace House, independent-living apartments for seniors.
Green is married to Dr. Dorothy Libron-Green, a retired mathematics professor. They have two children and four grandchildren, and are residents of Sarasota, Fla., and summer residents of Martha’s Vineyard.
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