Tonight we are discussing Chapter 9 “Bless the Dying: Ashes” of the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. In reading through this chapter, please find a quiet space and a quiet time to allow for self-reflection. This email is available online and on Facebook.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
1979 BCP 134
The prayer says “bless the dying.” It does not say “save” or “help” or “heal” the dying, but to bless them. Although we do not consider dying to be a blessed occasion, nonetheless, the dying have a special blessedness. Rev. Warren calls us to remember the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 and particularly in Luke 6:20-23. There Jesus says that the blessed are the poor, those who mourn, hunger, risk peace, or are persecuted. Dying certainly fits within these categories. As she writes: “These depths of human vulnerability birth a particular kind of blessedness. What does it mean to find blessing in the darkest moments of our lives?” p.119. How is dying a blessed moment?
Rev. Warren writes that to “trust God in our vulnerability is to willingly enter a lifelong exercise in becoming attuned to what blessing truly is, and how often it is found in the last place we’d like to look.” p.119. When we read the gospels, what we see is Jesus being with those whom he called blessed. In this last parable told just before the Last Supper (the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46)), Jesus identifies these most vulnerable as the very embodiment of himself. And on the Cross we see Jesus being glorified in his death. It is in dying that we become most closely identified with him.
Rev. Warren ends her meditation on “bless the dying” by returning us to Ash Wednesday and the phrase: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 1979 BCP 265. We all know that the things of this world will not save us from death, but we need to be vividly reminded that this is so. Ash Wednesday is that day that the church calendar requires that we put away “our shiny, privileged American optimism” and forces us to confront our death. p.122.
Although Ash Wednesday is the day to remember your death, we should take time each day to remember our mortality. The Romans used the term memento mori (“Remember you must die”). The daily remembrance of our death is not intended to be a celebration of darkness or despair, but a means of teaching us how to live. It tells us to not put off until tomorrow those things that must be done today. For we “do not know what tomorrow will bring . . . you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14.
Questions and Practices:
Rev. Warren’s suggested questions and practices for chapter 9 are:
1. Have you ever prayed for healing for someone who nevertheless died or who remains sick? How did that experience affect your prayer life?
2. Are there ways you have observed sentimentality or resistance to death in the church? The author quotes David Bentley Hart, who says, “Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces-whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance-that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred.” How does it change our spiritual life that we are permitted to hate death and suffering with the hatred that God feels for these enemies?
3. How have you experienced blessing in your own life? How do you reconcile blessing with suffering and death in your own experience?
1. Work on your sleep hygiene. Create a routine for bedtime that includes a consistent bedtime, comfort activities, and asking God to protect you with his angels, and follow it for a week (or more).
2. Write a letter to your body. Thank your body for the ways in to which it has given you life and joy. Express frustration for the ways you have experienced the fall and limitations in your body. Describe what you’ve learned from your embodiment.
3. Practice silent prayer. Tum off your phone and put away any distractions. Sit in God’s presence. As thoughts occur to you, acknowledge them and then let them go. Keep returning again to mental and verbal stillness before God. If this is the first time you’ve tried this, set a timer for five minutes. It can sometimes help to light a candle and to keep your eyes focused on it during the time of silence.
4. Read the story of Lazarus in John 11. Meditate on Jesus’ “great distress” when he stands before the tomb. What do you think his face looked like? What did his body posture look like? How was he interacting with those around him?
5. Take up the Benedictine practice of remembering your death. Here are a few ways to do that: (A) Attend an Ash Wednesday service. (B) Journal about what you would want people to say about you at your eulogy, and what you would need to do now to become that person. (C) Journal about how physical limitations-sickness, sleep, and grief remind you of death and cause you to experience death in doses over the course of your life.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is St. Patrick’s Day. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8.
Remember, Lord, how short life is, *Psalm 89:48-49
how frail you have made all flesh
Who can live and not see death? *
who can save himself from the power of the grave?