Hope is Letting Go

 

Gerald May uses the expression of “naked hope” meaning that hope “is not tied to any particular end”.  This understanding of hope is often the opposite of that to which most of us seem to prescribe.  For the most part many of us like the idea of hoping in something, or hoping for a specific outcome.  Hope in this instance is little more than wishful thinking or wanting.  I hope I win the next lottery.

But what happens when that for which I have hoped is not realized.  When it comes to winning or not winning the lottery many of us can easier tell ourselves that there will always be next time. (A friend of mine also reminds me to buy a ticket.)  But what about those times when there isn’t a second chance (or third, or fourth…)?

Of course, the biggie in this life is often death.  When we are told of our own or a loved one’s terminal illness, we often begin hoping for any number of things.  We may hope for more time, or a cure, or a miracle.  Often, we even hope against hope itself (whatever that may mean).  Even when we are told that the only thing left is good care, we want something more. (Palliative Care often fights an uphill battle because no one really wants to be told nothing more can be done – for many in the medical field, death means defeat.  Others may feel that doing nothing is the same is giving up.

Neither of these views is true. Death is never the victor. I often have used the expression of “death coming mercifully as opposed to being a friend”. Neither is dying well a matter of giving up.  What we really need is as May has named “naked hope”.  We need to look at life without any expectations of a specific outcome.  I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we didn’t wait until the end of life for ourselves or others to start living this way.

Life is full of unexpected turns and twists.  Robert Frost talks about the importance of choosing the road less travelled, but we don’t always have to do that to find unexpected results.  We can also make life more difficult for ourselves when we refuse to accept that which comes our way. Now, I am not saying that we should just roll over and play dead.  There are times when we need to stand up and be heard (ideally, we can do that respectfully despite the fact that the opposite is found so much on social media). But the real name of the game is to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves in a positive way.  Harold Kushner wrote a whole book about dealing with life when “bad things happen to good people”.

The term “little death” has been used to talk about those times in life when we feel a huge loss (sometimes even retirement can be included here).  Regardless of the “death” little or large, how we deal with it becomes central to us.  If we get what we “hoped” for, than I suppose we should be happy, but even when we get a different outcome, we can still carry on.

Real hoping means being able to let go.

Ready for Death

While looking through some magazines the other day I ran across a couple of books that I had been thinking about purchasing.  The first was the The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson.  It is a book about going through one’s own “stuff” before death and getting rid of what you don’t need or want any more.  The idea behind such a “cleansing” is to make life easier on the loved ones left behind who usually have to sort through these things.  The other part of this cleaning is to clearly mark who will receive those things that often don’t get include in the Will.

Before my mother died, she distributed to her children those things that she felt each child would like to receive or maybe would appreciate the most.  Personally, I received a lot of books.  Some of these books had been my Grandfather’s.  Others were antiques and could be kept or sold.  Some were really worth very little if anything at all and were recycled.

At first I thought her efforts to make these offers to her children and grandchildren were too much.  Not too much in any dollars and cents way of thinking, but in a more morbid way.  She was preparing to die.

At the time I was likely shocked, but as I have come to study and learn about dying and death, I can see a real value in this exercise.  I have a box (a good-sized box) of old photos.  As I look through them as I have done occasionally, I recall the story behind each photo.  Then I ask myself if my children or grandchildren will know these stories.  Generally, they will not unless they are told.  Unless the photos are dated and people named they might mean more, but even that is questionable.  Fortunately today photos can be taken and categorized more easier, but are they?

Death cleaning is such a valuable exercise.

The other book that is of interest to me is entitled I’m Dead, Now What? by Peter Pauper Press.  This book is a resource type book that helps with our death cleaning.  Part of its introduction reads “This practical and not at all morbid book walks you through the important stuff: personal information, medical information, key contacts …personal wishes and last words.” Now, of course, it would be ideal if such matters were thoroughly discussed with loved ones before hand, but that rarely seems to happen.

I realize that very few of us care to discuss these types of issues, least of all with loved one.  Yet, as much as we might hope otherwise, death is going to happen to us all at some point.  Age is not a factor.  Our health may not be a factor either.  We have all known of someone who has “left this earth far too soon”, yet for some reason we put off preparing.  Even those who have a strong belief system that they are going to a better place may put off the inevitable.

We might claim that “life is uncertain, so eat dessert first”, yet how many of us really believe it?

Tough be Christian Today

 

 

In times of difficulty the old adage often quote is that “there are no atheists in foxholes”.  The author of such a statement is accredited to many different individuals. More importantly is that it suggests that when one is experiencing a struggle of some kind in one’s personal that is larger than oneself, the person will seek to find something or someone (God, a god) hopefully for deliverance beyond the present situation. It is being suggested then that everyone believes in something of another worldly kind.

Some individuals who have practised leadership within the Christian church have become self-described “atheists” which seems to be a double contradiction given their position of “minister” and the old adage.  Many have questioned how one can be a Christian and an atheist.  The two seem to be at odds to one another.  At least until the definitions are further explored.

Firstly, one asks:  what does it mean to be Christian?  The simplest answer seems to be that a Christian is one who believes Jesus is the Son of God, the Saviour of humankind. At the same time there are those Christians who profess to follow “the Jesus way” (showing love, compassion, empathy, inclusion to name a few of his qualities) who don’t feel the same about the man’s role in the world.  To quote Tim Rice from Jesus Christ, Superstar: “He’s just a man” with human not superhuman qualities. Between these two extremes lie the rest of those who call themselves “Christian”.

Just as the definitions of what it means to be Christian can and do vary, do can and does one’s understanding of what it is to be an atheist.  In its simplest meaning one assumes that an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in God.  However, the next question has to involve asking just what one means when the “God” is used.  As this writer has often said before, there are nearly as many images or understandings of God as there are people.  Is God anthropomorphized as an “old man with a long beard living in the sky”? Does knowing all things dictate events in the lives of humans?  Does God care about “all of creation” or have a human’s first policy? Is it God who intervenes in some lives and not others and on what criteria?  The list can seem endless if it isn’t.

A news media reported that a particular atheist minister didn’t believe in the Bible.  Of course, this should not be called “fake news”, but it does mean that further questions need to be explored.  What does it mean to believe “in the Bible”?  Once again the extreme understandings of this book can and do create all kinds of havoc with one’s belief system.  Do we read the Bible as the “literal” word of God, penned by human hands but totally directed by God (an outside force)?  Does one read a history of a people and how that people rejected Jesus, as the Christ?  Sadly, the Christian church can’t even agree on which writings should be included or excluded. There was even a time when the idea of translating the Hebrew and Greek into English was punishable by death.

It seems to this writer that we have given up exploring the questions far too soon to be able to make any bold statements. We seem to limit ourselves to our comfort zone and choose to go no further.  By some definitions I too would be considered an atheist.  Many are also turning from the religious institutions that limit one’s understandings and questions.  Too often I also hear the adage that “if one doesn’t stand (believe) for something, than you fall for anything”.   This adage seems only to be true when we accept a narrow definition of our beliefs.