Friday, December 18, 2009

The Dying of the Year...

reminds me, this year, how many people I know and care for who are in the last days, weeks, months, years of their lives. I must know at least ten people who are fighting off cancer, some successfully, some not. Other dear ones are growing very old and frail. Sunday I will offer a memorial service for a beloved member of our congregation, Hildred Cyr, who succumbed to Pickwickian Syndrome (imbalance of Co2/H2O) and other maladies. A few days ago I got a note from a friend whose cancer has been unbeatable, wanting to talk about her own memorial service.

We have an aging congregation, many approaching age 90. Others are chronically ill with one thing or another. At least one person is in the last weeks of his life, expecting to make it through Christmas and then...perhaps Death with Dignity, if he is able. My own aging is more and more apparent to me as I down my vitamins and a couple of meds to ward off this or that and decide whether today the aches are bad enough to take some ibuprofen.

As I prepare for Sunday's memorial service and consider the prospect of another one or two on its heels, I feel weighted down by this aspect of ministry, even as I feel honored by the opportunity to accompany mourners in their grief. But my grief needs to be put aside temporarily so that I have the emotional space and can be present to theirs.

So I have prepared the eulogy for Sunday with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, missing this woman's presence and yet relieved that her struggle is over. And on Sunday, we will light the chalice in her honor, I will tell her story, we will listen to others' stories, we'll comfort each other, and we will complete part of the important work of saying goodbye.

I love this work deeply yet I am also exhausted by it on occasion. This is one of those times, yet I would not give it up for anything. I know that the strength will be there when I need it, that I am not alone either in my grief or in my joy, and that to be present at these moments of human life is an honor and a blessing.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


SC said...

"Be an angel," said the church administrator to Theologian Rebecca Parker as the young Rev. Parker despaired at trying to provide comfort and ministry to the dying. "And what does that mean?" asked Rev. Parker. Came the response: "just go and be there. Your presence will be enough."

[From a sermon of Rev. Parker that I shall never forget.]

elz said...

may whatever it is that sometimes lifts us above ourselves, to stand before others and wrap around the arms of our souls, lift and balance you. i know it will. i know it chooses you in confidence that you can be a solid vessel for its gifts.

and when the moment comes, as i also know it will, that this whatever-it-is must set you back down on this muddy winter earth, reach for your cats and your tissue box, look at those you love, or their photos, and be very very good to your one own self.

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, my friends.

Robin Edgar said...

Well if it is any comfort to you and your parishioners Rev. Ketcham it should be noted the the "dying of the year" at the winter solstice was also a celebration of the "rebirth" of the sun in many ancient religious traditions. The sun did figuratively "die" on the winter solstice but it was quite reliably reborn in the days, weeks and months following its symbolic "death".

My "eclipsology" research indicates that many ancient cultures transferred religious beliefs and practices that were inspired by the much more spectacular "death" and "rebirth" of the sun during total solar eclipses onto their respective winter solstice celebrations in both the northern and southern hemishperes. The reasons for doing so are fairly obvious. Perhaps the best "rock solid evidence" of this fact is 'The Stone of the Seven Suns' at the Dowth megalithic "passage tomb" in Ireland. Seven "rayed sun" petroglyphs that depict the totally eclipsed sun with its corona shining out around it are carved into this stone and the main passage of Dowth is aligned with the winter solstice sunset. Related Boyne Valley sites nearby, such as Newgrange, have passages aligned with the winter solstice sunrise thus both the "death" and "rebirth" of the sun were quite literally *observed* and responded to by the prehistoric people of Ireland. Meanwhile in ancient Egypt the birthday of the Egyptian solar falcon god Horus was celebrated on December 21st, long before Christians chose the winter solstice to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Depictions of the baby Horus with his mother Isis predate similar depictions of Mary with the baby Jesus by centuries if not a millennium or two. You'll never guess what spectacular cosmic phenomenon inspired this mythical bird of the sun, to say nothing of the phoenix. . .

All around the world, North and South, East and West, the winter solstice was perceived as a time of rebirth as much as a time of death, just as total solar eclipses were a much more spectacular, but much less regularly occurring and predictable, cosmic symbol of death and rebirth. Regardless of whether or not one actually believes in an afterlife, or reincarnation, it seems that both of these religious concepts were in no small measure inspired by the apparent death and rebirth of the sun during total solar eclipses. The cosmic symbolism is there for people to see and understand. The only question is if that cosmic symbolism is intended to be there. . . I have very good reason to believe that it is.

The next time you visit a dying parishioner you may wish to let them know about the promise of the phoenix.