Faith formation

May 17, 2013

Not long ago I went to visit a woman who had just entered hospice care. I've known her family for several years. I used to visit her with her husband and give them communion pretty regularly.

I wasn't sure what to expect that day I visited. How would she feel? Would she even be awake? I found that she was up in a wheelchair, in one of those brightly-colored jogging suits, and even in a sort-of feisty mood.

She turned to me at one point, and said, in a sort of conspiratorial tone, "Just between you and me,  I think I'm going to stop eating."  A little later she said, "I want you to do my funeral."  I was a little taken aback, but replied, "Well, don't be in too much of a hurry."

"What, are you going on vacation?" she asked. 

She seemed so at ease with her dying. I caught myself hoping that I could be like that someday.

I visited her again when her husband and son were there, and we read scripture and shared communion. The appointed lesson for the day was Psalm 148. It was a hymn of praise. "Praise him, sun and moon! Praise him, all you shining stars!" Perhaps it seemed like an odd choice to read to a woman who was dying. But when I asked her what she would praise God for, she was quick to answer, "I praise God for my family.  I praise God for my children.  It's been a good life.  It's been a good life."

In my congregation, we are considering "faith formation" these days.  How can faith be formed in us all through our lives, from the time we are held at the font, until the day we are carried to the many mansions God has prepared for us?  What is the purpose of "faith formation" anyway?

And when I think about it, I hope our faith is formed for many purposes: to help us find our voice, to speak and act with justice and mercy, to help us to see the beauty in the world and in others, to grow in grace and courage and compassion.

But just for today, when I consider the goal of 'faith formation,' here's what it looks like: to be at ease with dying. To be grateful.  To be able to say to those around me, "It's been a good life."

Originally posted at Faith in Community


Comfortable with dying

Recently I buried Gertrude Seltmann, a 90 year old saint who died from cancer.  She was diagnosed almost a year before her death and lasted longer than we thought possible. 

When she announced her diagnosis at our midweek Bible study, we gathered around her to pray.  At the end of our prayer she prayed, "God, keep me from being a grumpy, old woman." 

For the next 9 months she lived out her prayer, remaining in her home, faithfully coming to worship and Bible Study, even inviting the Bible Study into her home for lunch.  She constantly gave thanks for a good, long life and expressed love to her family and friends. We could tell she was often in pain, but she quietly maintained, "I'll be okay."

Three weeks before she died she moved in with her son.  On the weekend before her death, her two sons and their wives, one of whom lived in another state, gathered to spend a last weekend with her, during which she was alert and present.

Throughout her illness, Gert showed us how to die with grace.  I hope to have many more years  before I die, but in the meantime I've made Gert's prayer my own.  "God, keep me from being a grumpy, old man."  That way when my time comes to an end, I will have sufficient strength to follow Gert's example and die "grace-fully."