We are surrounded by death throughout life, but we do not know how to bring this reality to light and so death stays in the shadows and lingers there, full of shame and a sense of losing or giving up; a fear of losing status or authority or influence or worst of all loss of dignity and relevance. That is our fault. Many of us are in the the shadowy darkness right alongside the dying because we ourselves are full of shame and a sense of losing or giving up. . . a fear of losing status or authority or influence or worst of all loss of dignity and relevance. The shadowy nature of dying is our own human frailty. Our human nature is that which dies with our body, so we must abandon the human nature to cling to life and survive needlessly.  Instead we give our Hearts to absolute LOVE because that is what is GOD and that is what is eternal within us.

This CoVid Crisis has shined the spotlight upon death and it it impossible to ignore or deny the attention it is drawing. Because during our solitary physical distancing and our necessary isolating to preserve our own health and lives there is still the same Samsara-pattern of life and death happening everywhere around us. People are still dying peacefully of old age. Some are still dying because of a massive and sudden heart attack or a sudden and tragic car accident. Some give in to mysterious diseases that share no diagnosis and still some are facing curative treatments that seem worse than death. Some suffer in their minds so greatly that even when their bodies are filled with life they long for death. And somehow, although the ways that Co-Vid has prohibited us from celebrating the joy and hope of death together through our ceremonies and rituals, we have failed to address death with wisdom and guidance and open conversation and acceptance. Why? 

And when I am called to the side of a dying soul and am asked to pray, I pray the words below in some form or another, using words of comfort and familiarity when I know their faith, and framing the prayer with the most well known or common terms for the same things I know and share in my own theology depending upon their context. I do this and respect the other names and revelations of God because after the intensive Chaplaincy training during my Clinical Pastoral Education, I began to understand that my acknowledging God in others’ revelations and souls did not and should not diminish my own understanding of God. My God, and my God’s unmerited grace is big enough. It’s why I rest into that Holy Mystery; I may not understand it but I can live into it and trust the truth of what I know: God is LOVE. 

So many people ask me how we “should” feel about death and admit to them I’m not sure, but I know that if we did not have the hope of eternity we would be absolutely lost. It took me grabbing hands with Christ to understand the Holy Mystery but Christ does not have the monopoly on peace or revelation. Perhaps others find it through the hands of the Creator revealed in Creation and the Saṃsāra rhythms and cycles of life or through the shiny Spirit sparking light and love within their own hearts; some feel dimished in their faith when they cannot remember a time without YOUR presence surrounding them and I remind them they are reborn every day into new life and that their unbeknownst origin of faith does not mean they don’t already live and breathe with that Holy Mystery. . .

It’s not ours to know details because what happens after death is in God’s Hands and many, as do most Christians, believe that our Spirit is already part of the Holy Mystery and certainly positively proof of that same Holy Mystery breathing life giving inspiration throughout ALL.

And so we do not fear or freeze with inaction like a deer-in-the-headlights. No! We trust, and trusting includes recognizing how courageous it is to sincerely pray this prayer every day. I’m inviting you to embrace this prayer and pray it for the dying and also for yourself.
 
We pray:
 
A Prayer for the Dying
 
Holy Mystery,
God our Creator of
Christ the Human Presence of the
Spirit the Shiny Living Inspiration of
YOU:
 
YOU
Only
Know our days and so
We pray for those who are dying
 
That if they have any life in them to live
whether their souls long for death
or their souls shrink in fear of death we pray
that each moment
will be surrounded by love and meaning, dignity and purpose, and that
Each breath
Each inspiration
would thrive with your Energy.
And that they would be surrounded by those they love and cherish most
 
and that they would tangibly feel the presence of all those who love them
 
whether present in body or Spirit joined.
 
That if they have come to the end of their time here
And if they have many days to contemplate this
Give them an inner peace that is so warm that your
Peace that Passes Understanding
Finds a permanent home within their soul and that
they begin to value every inspiration and marry it with the breath that is YOU that is that shiny Spirit.
Give them the time here among the living saints
and give them living saints worthy of the Calling to
Be YOUR Body, to be Christ;
present and peaceful and in-Spi-ra-tion-al.
 
That if they have made their peace
And are safely and securely resting in your LOVE
Holy Mystery,
We pray they would go quickly without suffering and
If
O God
The dying one cannot let go
We pray for Ourselves to Trust,
As we surely are the ties holding onto
Your Beloved Child.
And So
Our Holy and Present Mystery
Give us your peace to release this saint
Into
Your
Arms.
Amen.

 

—Rev. Paula Daniel Steinbacher

I came across a picture today of 8 Years ago when we were having our “Last supper” as a family around our table in Winfield before we sent Addie off to college. 8 Years and I swear I have not adapted to having an adult daughter; maybe I’ve adapted to it but most of the time I still feel that ache for our home. Our Winfield home was wonderful and full of life and friends and too many pets. My hobby and passion was my rose garden in the front and the little wildflower garden out by the bluebird houses. We spent each evening around the campfire in the back and took nightly walks through our “Tall Grass Prairie” path.
I moved to Colorado during Stephen’s senior year of high school. James and Stephen stayed in Winfield to finish out public school. They did a great job together, but it was extra difficult for me to be in a new “temporary” home and in a brand new job. I didn’t know who I was or what I was without having my children under my roof; I spent my time investing in being the best Pastor I could be and didn’t do any figuring out who I was.
It is strange to think that I am finally finding a new normal. And now the entire world has changed so I need to find a new new normal. And occasionally, pictures like the one I found from 8 years ago pop up and remind me of how beautiful our lives are, how rich and complete our days are when we spend them with family and friends. We love where we live and what we do when we have the right focus and then — oh, how fortunate to truly love where we live.
I’ve taken a week of reflection and introspection. It’s been a very difficult time — it was my first real taste of what many of you experienced during the shut down. I was so busy during the shut-down I never had time for reflection. Or should I say, I didn’t MAKE time for reflection. Because reflection can be very difficult (who really wants a mirror held up in front of them with all those things that are shoved way down deep in our selves?). And honestly, though I knew I was exhausted and empty, I knew if I stopped I would have to deal with all this grief.
Grief over my father (died 30 years ago) and mother (died nearly 10 years ago) and what I always felt was “Home.” Goodness, I am fifty one years old and I still feel the brief years of birth through 18 are “home?” Since then I’ve created five beautiful, colorful homes where people are always welcome and where James and I nurtured and tried to cocoon Addie and Stephen. And I have a homesickness for them as well.
Grief over how quickly my own Thing One and Thing Two become their very own selves and how proud I am of them but also how much I wish they were actually right here under my roof every night so I knew they were safe and sound and that they went to bed every night knowing they were loved and safe.
Grief over the world and what we have lost and how we need to move forward and figure out how to keep everyone around us loved and safe.
Father Richard Rohr says this homesickness (where all my grief comes back to) is what we feel when we are missing being in the presence of God. I think of this feeling and the presence of God as the Divine Mystery. Our world here is full of liminal spaces where we can tangibly reconnect with that Mystery. Sometimes it happens with a community, sometimes in a place of Natural Wonder, and sometimes when you are silenced by the beauty of something made by human hands — but your heart is warmed and healed and your senses are heightened and you feel right then that everything actually is okay. You feel, for the moment, that you are right where you belong and you belong right where you are.
Liminal spaces are thin. We can’t live our lives in that closeness to God or we would never want to be in the muck of our day-to-day grind. Those spaces might be thin, but they can actually be every where, so ultimately when our day-to-day grind allows more space for the Divine Mystery than it does the muck, our every day moments become more and more holy.
Through many tears, much confession with God, much openness to grace I have started grieving. It is as if the floodgates have opened and I can finally feel and mourn and cry and scream out in angsty teenage-style groans. I think it is making up for all the times I have lifted my chin and just kept on going.
I guess every now and then you have to stop and cry. Toddlers do it without any apparent reason. They become overwrought with whatever it is and they sit down and have a good cry. But then they either fall asleep or get up and move on. I’ve been falling asleep too much.
What I’m learning and re-learning and reminding myself is that I truly love where I live now. Most of the time I am still in so much “Awe” of the mountains and the wildflowers and the aspen trees and the freshly running clear water in our streams and creeks to even settle in. I don’t want to “get used to it” because I never want to take it for granted.
I adore my congregation and honestly am just now able to feel the devastating effects of CoVid on our community and church.
I don’t know why I’m writing this so publicly. I don’t really want sympathy or encouragement (people are always generously loving me and expressing their hearts — thank you). I guess I just want you to know it’s hard right now.  Not just for me — for all of us. And I get it.  Wherever you are in life. Whatever big changes you’re experiencing within the big changes we are all experiencing. It’s hard.
But we will come through this and we will work towards making our home a little more like the Kin-dom of God. I like “Kin” dom rather than “King”dom. God’s family was never meant to look like a kingdom — it was supposed to look and feel as close to home as we can get while we are on this mortal coil.
What can each of us do today to make our new normal more full of Liminal Spaces, where we can touch base with that ultimate source of LOVE? We have the choice as we rebuild — will we leave more room for the muck or for the holy moments?
I’m choosing to give myself into the Divine Mystery. Will you join me?