One year ago, almost to the day, Kh. Terry Elizabeth died. I wanted to share a bit of what her thoughts were during the last days of her life for I find them instructive.
I imagine all of us, if given the time to do it, would develop a plan to get some things finalized so as not to leave too many loose ends; a time to right relationships and maybe even accomplish a short ‘bucket list’. Terry’s list focused on time with family and making Christmas stockings with several of you (yes, many, many Christmas stockings!) and even a trip to Colorado to spend time with her brother, Steve. To show our kids the lake at his place and swim and paddle with them.
However, that is not what I wanted to speak to. What I really appreciated was a gentle rebuke she gave to me about a month before she died. I had just returned home from a busy work day that included getting the kids ready for school, dropping them off at their preschool, elementary school and high school. It was a rather full day of activity for me.
When I came home I went to see how Terry was doing and to talk with her about the day like we often did. The room was dark and I could hear the air pump inflating her hospital bed mattress. I knew I needed to ‘shift gears’, slow down and be there for her as best I could. I asked how things were going- her tears were my only answer. I began to share with her ‘my day’ and what was going on with the kids and all the ‘busy ness’ of the day.
After a moment she interrupted me. She asked me not to bring ‘distraction’ into her situation. She let me know that life is now passing from her and she can no longer be concerned with the details expressed in this world. She said she must now focus on seeing Christ’s face, focus on life in the next world. She wisely informed me that by this cross she was bearing the world was now being crucified to her and she to the world. She had always been good at being concerned for others and their ‘details’ but now was different-now she needed to focus on the one thing necessary- her final cross.
I can’t remember the name of the TV show back in the late 60’s that was predicated on the main character being told he had a serious illness and had a year to live. The series developed predicated on how that information changed the way he lived throughout each weekly episode.
Even as a young man it struck me as odd, not that knowing your death was at hand would change the way you choose to live but it was odd that this character wouldn’t know that already. It shouldn’t take a doctor to tell him he is about to die to get his life in order. The saints , the martyrs and the Holy ones of our church all instruct us to live out each day with the knowledge that our death is imminent. It doesn’t matter if you think you have 5 days, 5 months or 5 decades to run out the course of your life. Your death is imminent!!!
Knowing that death is imminent certainly should move us to focus on those things that are eternal, important and most glorious. Knowing that death is imminent should move us to remove ‘distraction’ that might keep us from ‘seeing’ the path -for God leads us on the path of righteousness for His Name sake.
Today we heard II Cor. 4-It was God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. While we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Monks have often chosen to sleep each night in the coffin they would someday be buried in. That may seem morbid to the world but hyperbole is sometimes the best way to show a point. St. Paul writes to his beloved Timothy- “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier………. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.”
This process of detaching obviously is appropriate at one season and very inappropriate at another. There is a time to sow and a time to reap; there is a time to throw stones and a time to refrain from throwing stones and there is a time to live and a time to die. Terry’s time required a detaching from all that this world had been to her so that she could move into the realm where there is no season or time.
While we draw the breath of life we are to walk in life with the understanding that life on this earth is temporal; it is not our eternal dwelling place; it is to be lived as a sojourner in this world, not as a permanent resident. None of us can afford to miss this point. We are to lay down our distracting burden and take up His light yoke. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price. We must learn to wean ourselves from the distractions and attachments that can so easily prevent us from pleasing the One who enlisted us- from experiencing the glory of God in the Face of Christ Jesus.
Fr. Andrew Beck, October 6th, 2013