Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Church's Last Passage

I was listening to NPR and heard a rerun of a story I'd heard previously. A familiar voice. I didn't know much about him, but I remembered he was a theologian facing his own early death to cancer.

Only the recycling of this story was to recognize the final curtain of Forrest Church. Knowing he had recently died, the retrospective nature of the interview felt different to me. And I was moved even more by his sagacious words and peaceful spirit:

GROSS: You know, you write in your book, you know, again, about how you don't believe in an interventionist God, and you say, once you start praying to God to cure your cancer or asking God why he didn't answer you prayers, the questions never stop. And then you refer to, like, a bishop who said his faith was shaken by the tsunami.

Rev. CHURCH: Yes.

GROSS: And then you say, you don't like it when people say about a tragedy or about, you know, an illness or death, well, God has his reasons. It's just part of God's plan.

Rev. CHURCH: This is God's plan.

GROSS: What do you object to about that? Why isn't that the...

Rev. CHURCH: Well, I can see how it can give comfort. But God doesn't throw a three-year-old child out of a third story window or allow a drunken driver to kill a family crossing the street. This is not part of God's plan. These are the accidents of life and death. And if God, for instance, is responsible for a tsunami, that obliterates the lives of a hundred thousand people and leaves their families in tatters, then God's a bastard.

I cannot believe in such a God. For me, God is the life force, that which is greater than all and yet present in each. But God is not micromanaging this world. That is a presumption that we are naturally drawn to because of our sense of centrality and self importance, but there are 1,500 stars for every living human being. And the God that I believe in is an absolute magnificent mystery....

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GROSS: I want to get back to mortality. How much time would you say, in your typical day, you spend thinking about death?

Rev. CHURCH: At this point, Terry, I probably spend almost no time thinking about death. For the first time in my life, I am living completely in the present. I have, as I said about a terminal illness where you have time, in a sense, it allows you to sort of co-script your final act. To be able to write "Love and Death" was to be able to put a code on my life. I have been able to conclude my active life, as opposed to it just ending.

I am not yet at the point of being on my deathbed, so I am into sort of an in-between place. Each day is - I read. I chat with my friends who are ever more attentive. We take our friends for granted, as well. And when there is a short amount of time, they come out of the woodwork, old, old, old friends. And we spend lots of time together. And I am just in the present.

When the time comes, when I am closer to my deathbed or on it, I am certain that I'll begin probably even fearing, to some degree, the passage, but there is not fear in my mind now, and there is no preoccupation by death. It doesn't - I don't push my nose up against that dark pane in my window. I stand back and let the light shine on me.

I was inspired to tears as I listened. Religiosity and doctrine aside, his words resonated. His attitude challenged others to rethink life, love, and death - perhaps even the nature of God.

"Without even trying," he says "you've already won the only race that really matters. Unconsciously, yet omnipresent, you ran the gauntlet of stars and genomes to assume your full, nothing less than miraculous, place in the creation."

Being alive to love and hurt, to fail and recover, to prove your grit and show compassion, that is life's true secret. Life's abiding opportunity, bequeathed against all odds to each and every one of us, is much the same: it is to live, and also to die, for the multitude of brothers and sisters who beat the odds with us, who labored with our ancestors' hands and wept tears (of grief and joy) from our ancestors' eyes, connecting us as kin to God and each other, blessed together, always together, with the privilege of running from gate to flag in life's glorious race."

Reverend Forrest Church died on September 24, 2009.

1 comment:

Louisa said...

love the new blog design and in particular love this "Don't allow the shadows of the past eclipse your present" ever since our son was stillborn I can' t help the feeling of being judged or I have been some failure in some sense, Harry died at full term due to a heart issue and I still don't feel strong and myself again, feel like I have fallen off the horse and I need the courage to climb back on, I do feel like that there is some judgement in society..I know I know it's probably my issue, I know that intellectually..but I do love this statement that will help me along..
Louisa

Becoming...

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The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul


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