A beautiful death (?)

I was listening to a list of things that are beautiful, things that fill us with hope and with life.  “Holding the hand of your daughter.”  “Sitting by your grandfather’s bedside while he takes his last breath.” “A beautiful song.”  “This feeling at work that what you do matters.”

My ears heard all of them, but my brain just stopped processing at about the second one.  I was not surprised, really.  I know that this is what we are supposed to believe.  But I was struck by the force of it.  My grandfather died about ten years ago.  He died quite suddenly, walking into his bedroom to turn the clock foreward, for daylight savings.  (Is daylight savings the one when we move the clocks foreward?  What do we call the other one?)  I have always found that kind-of wonderful and poetic.  I have this idea that he went to be with that lost hour, in somewhere of eternal possibilities, so near to us, but not quite close enough to touch.

And so the literal meaning of those words, “Sitting by your grandfather’s bedside while he takes his last breath.”  it’s not that what the words meant is what I struggled with.  My mom has been dead for a little over a year now.  And so whenever I hear that word, “death.”  It’s her I am thinking about.


There are lots of things that were a lot less beautiful about her death.  It was a battle she fought, a battle she lost, just a few feet at a time.  It was World War I-style trench warfare, the death of my mother.  Also, there is something… natural?  expected?  about losing grand parents.  Yes, I know that the same could be said for parents.  But somehow, it just isn’t the same.  I did not know how deep the connection to my mom went until she was gone.

These things are related to something more fundamental, something which made her death not beautiful: me.  I was not ready for it to be beautiful.  I resisted it and I fought with it.  Some of these thoughts and feelings on the inside played out in terms of decisions and words that happened on the outside.  I am not proud of all the things I did and said as my mother died.

Declaring a thing beautiful makes it so.  Tell a person they are beautiful and it will change them.  God made the world, and then he said, “It is good.”  I realized something about this:  I think that when God declared the world good, it actually changed the world.  It made the world more good, perhaps in some way we could never define or explain.  This change was not only brought about because God is God.  I truly believe that even when we declare a thing beautiful, it changes that thing.

Someday, much too soon, other people who I love very much are going to die.  And I am declaring, right here and now, that it is beautiful.  This declaration will make it a little bit more beautiful than it would have been.  I don’t think this declaration will make it easier.  But it will make it better.

I hope that you can learn from my mistakes.  I hope that you will make this declaration now, too.

As I write this, I am holding on to this hope.  In a way it so abstract I can barely describe it, but right now it feels really important.

I am going to try and express this hope as a question:

Would it have mattered if God came back to the world, and declared it good, after the fact?  Can declaring a thing beautiful, after the fact, can this travel through time itself, going back, and changing a thing?

What if I decide right now, that my mom’s death was beautiful?  Does that change anything?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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