Tag Archives: blessing

Death, Dying and Bereavement

Death, Dying and Bereavement

Death, Dying and Bereavement

Not the cheeriest subject for this time of year – or any time of the year really, but a weekend’s training, curtailed somewhat into an intensive one-day session due to an outbreak of Norovirus at college, saw us gathering on a very cold and frosty morning in Diocesan Church House, Oxford to contemplate our own and other’s mortality and our responses, as part of our pastoral training.

Having to face death is part and parcel of being a priest; the initial contact to the bereaved, the nuts and bolts of organising a funeral service and the continuing pastoral support to all those affected are skills that can be taught but that can only be developed, unfortunately, through practice, which is always at the expense of someone’s grief.

We may therefore have expertise, but we will never truly be experts. So, hard as we might wish to, we can never honestly say that we know exactly what someone is going through or what they are feeling, as each person’s experience of the death of a loved one is unique. What we can do is to come alongside the bereaved, not shying away because we fear we’ll get it wrong and make things worse, but offering to listen or just to sit in the silence,

Gravestones blogAnd I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away’
Revelation 21:3-4

Accepting the reality of death for many people can be particularly hard and there are many euphemisms that are used to try to alleviate the finality of human life. Phrases such as the deceased having ‘passed away’ or ‘gone into the darkness’. Believing that they’ve ‘become a star’ or ‘gone to a better place, to be with Jesus or Granny’ etc. are all quite commonplace. Humour also features in sayings such as the cockney rhyming slang ‘brown bread’ for dead or ‘sleeping with the fishes’ with it’s undertones of Mafia involvement. It’s also interesting to discover the origin of some of these phrases; for example ‘kicked the bucket’ actually refers to the grotesque history of lynch mobs standing their victims on upturned buckets, which were then kicked away, or the more practical ‘popped their clogs,’ where the Lancastrian meaning of ‘popped’ equates to ‘pawned,’ so that in order to afford the funeral, the deceased’s family would place their clogs in hock until they could afford to redeem them!

However, death is a reality and needs to be faced, and as Christians we have something that offers a unique reassurance – a hope for the future. When we ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ – a euphemism courtesy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – we look to Christ’s promise of eternal life. Just how that will look can differ enormously depending on your theology; but one beautifully imaginative description of what this might be comes at the end of C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, a book that is often considered an allegory of the Book of Revelation.

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before

Out of death comes life - tiny cyclamens planted in the graveyard

Out of death comes life – tiny cyclamens in the graveyard

It was also important that we contemplated our own mortality so that we could become aware of our own thoughts and understanding about death because no-one is immune to the physical and emotional aspects of grief. Time spent in reflection enabled us to work through these attitudes in order that we can be better placed in the future to support those who will rely on us doing our ‘job’  both professionally and pastorally.

What is clear in all of this is that when death is not the end of life then death takes on a whole new meaning however it occurs

Death Comes

Death comes out of the shadows,
padding with stealthy footsteps;
like a thief in the night
to steal away life’s breath.

Death comes tumbling on the wind,
choking with gritty determination;
like a sudden desert sandstorm,
to obliterate hope and dreams.

Death comes with iron jaws,
lurking among the undergrowth;
like a hidden gin,
to bind and snare.

Death comes after sentence quashed,
counting the endless days;
like a prisoner of conscience ,
to bring welcome release.

Death comes in the shape of a cross,
sacrificing innocence;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
to redeem and bless humanity.

Grave Flowers blog


It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Mary’s Story

Mary and Child

Mary and Child

The day had been long and arduous, whether walking slowly along the dusty, gritty road or bumping along on the ass’ back; each step jolting the baby she carried inside her, as she gripped tightly onto the beast’s mane.

The town had looked such a welcome relief as they’d approached it, but it had soon become evident as they pushed and jostled their way through the narrow streets that they had arrived too late to find the comfortable guest house with its cool whitewashed walls and decent bed on which to rest.

Instead, “No vacancies, we’re full up!”

She had tried to smile as her husband looked apologetic, but he was determined to find them somewhere to stay. The last place they tried looked less appealing, a little shabby, but by then they were desperate; the baby was stirring inside her. The owner, must have sensed their anxiety as he led them down to the only room he had for them….among the animal stalls! Still there was plenty of clean straw and hay, and when her husband lit the oil lamp its glow had seemed to bring a tiny feeling of warmth to the room.

As darkness fell, she had tried to get some sleep, but it seemed to elude her tonight. She lay listening to the snuffling and soft breathing of the animals; a shaft of moonlight fell onto the earthen floor through a chink in the roof, and tiny motes of dust made it seem alive in the otherwise still air – there was a feeling of expectancy, not least from the child that moved more urgently in her womb. Through the open door she could see what seemed a million stars in the heavens, under which the rest of the world slept in deep oblivion of the future.

She felt the first sharp pain, but waited to wake her sleeping husband until she knew the birth rhythms were regularly and imminent. “The baby’s coming…”

Afterwards, as she wrapped the child in the swaddling cloths she had brought with them, she gazed down at him, cradled in her arms, and felt such an overwhelming sensation of love, that it made her whole body tingle, dissipating completely the few lingering pains of childbirth. She looked up to her husband, wondering what his thoughts were now that the child was here, but she saw only love and an unconditional acceptance, that here was a son; whom he would nurture and raise as best he could, A carpenter’s son or maybe he would choose another calling?

The baby, now content with a breastful of milk, lay quietly. He too held his mother regard as she scrutinized her perfect new-born infant and as their eyes met, she gasped slightly as she glimpsed briefly within them an ancient wisdom that spoke of creation and new worlds. Rocking him gently, she sang a lullaby “Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born…” which stilled not only her own mind but that of the creatures around her.

“A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

Outside, Bethlehem and the rest of the world was beginning to awake as the dawn broke. As she laid him in a manger of sweet smelling hay she spent a while pondering the future, wanting this hushed moment of peace to last for ever, but somehow knowing that it would not last…

… at least not in her or perhaps her son’s lifetime. Maybe eventually though it just might….

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

With every blessing for peace this Christmas!

“Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born” are lyrics from ‘Mary’s Lullaby’ by Jan Underwood Pinborough

A Weekend Away

The Lord's unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.

‘The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue,
Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise’   Lamentations 3:22-23

Travelling on a Friday to spent the weekend away in a hotel in the leafy Buckinghamshire countryside sounds just what one needs to take a break from the stress and strain of juggling study and work. Except the person in the car next to you isn’t your husband, and your suitcase, as well as containing a swimming costume for possible use in the promised spa pool, also holds your laptop, essay notes and several course text books for bedtime reading.

This is the OMC weekend away and it turns out to be just what the doctor of theology ordered!

It starts well with an interesting and absorbing conversation in the car to the extent that we ignore the Sat Nav’s informative directions and find ourselves approaching the much dreaded and legendary [avoid it with a barge pole if you don’t want to spend your evening counting daisies in the central reservation] M25 motorway. Amazingly the way is clear!

What other wonders might the weekend hold?

Well the hotel turns out to be very comfortable; the meals delicious and the work enjoyable which is great but not entirely surprising… What the weekend does reveal more is the joy and pleasure to be gained from growing in fellowship and friendship with those who are with you

True fellowship comes as you begin to discover more about other people and start to understand what makes them tick. The fact that the introverts need to get away from time to time to recharge the batteries, and that having an early night isn’t anti-social but necessary. Whereas, the extroverts build up their strength by spending time getting together with others at the end of day, maybe over a glass of wine or beer in the bar

Mealtimes are also a great opportunity to discover more about each other, as you relax and converse between mouthfuls – literally chewing over life – as you uncover connections and things you have in common or different. In the same way a long walk during free-time in the companionship of two or three others, along some of the beautiful (but slightly muddy) footpaths and country lanes result in much chat and laughter

A view to gladden the heart

A view to gladden the heart

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing
1 Thessalonians 5:11

As relationships start to blossom you begin to know that you can trust those around you more and more, and getting together with your prayer group affirms that; as you share the concerns that are on your mind, celebrate the good things that have happened and encourage each other lovingly.

None of the above need only take place in the confines of a hotel or a weekend or a theological college course setting. Getting to know, to understand and to love others takes place everyday in our ordinary, stuck in reality, lives. Just remember…

Life is short,
and we do not have too much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us;
So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind,
And may the Divine Mystery Who is beyond our ability to know
but Who made us, and Who loves us, and Who travels with us,
Bless us and keep us in peace.
Amen.

A benediction by Dr. Edmund Jones adapted from words by philosopher and writer Henri Frederic Amiel, 1821-1887