When Roland Hui, the interim editor, contacted me in November about writing regularly for Faith Tides, I had one comment and three questions. The comment was easy — I admire the quality of the publication and I congratulated him and Naomi Racz (the editor currently on leave).
The questions were harder:
- Why me?
- About what?
- How often?
My general rule, formed by age, experience and goals, is to avoid new ministry without requests and to seriously consider all requests. A service ministry starts with those who would be served. The general rule is sometimes thrown out for those without a voice.
Question 1: Roland should answer to himself, not to me.
I proposed answers to Roland for question 2 — stories about people who lived in ways I consider admirable and, less often, personal reflections, and as to question 3 — five times a year. Roland accepted. This will continue as long as the editor and I both think we are touching upon what you, the readers, find enriching, and that we are able to do just this. Regardless, no day is promised to us, so it will end.
The stories I tell come from people I’ve met as a deacon. Often, these individuals are outside the Anglican church or any denomination or religion. That is our culture — the sea in which we swim and where deacons must be. To quote with a twist the French revolutionary Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “People are born spiritual and not everywhere are in religious community.” Equally true — God is at work everywhere with everyone.
The stories are intimate yet do not name the actual persons involved. We need the insights of people with a range of privacy needs, so with a stringent standard we can tell more stories. Everyone has spiritual experiences, very often untold even within our families. Anonymity encourages us to look with fresh eyes and mind — might that story be about A? C? D? X? Maybe. Or maybe the person’s story is different and equally strong. Take the risk to be vulnerable. Go explore.
Here is a story:
A couple were together for over half a century; to be a bit of a math nerd, that is 500,000 hours.
Both were very active with family and friends, their church and community and other threads of their lives. But then cancer came fast and hard. With modern medicine, cancerous cells can be cut out, burned with radiation or poisoned with medication. With this particular malignancy, only medication could be used. This continued for over a year and in the later stages became palliative. Finally, as they wished, death came at home.
There was time to talk intimately with family and friends about the love and journeys they shared. The deep wish was more time to love. Love is infinite; human life is not infinite, a year is definitely not.
What was in the mind and heart of the second person through this loving journey and its painful end? In this case, the question and answer came together:
Where is God in all of this?
Thank God for all of this!
Near the end, a gathering of people had been around the couple to provide medical, practical and emotional support. On a trivial level, the health care and prayers were not a success because the patient died; trivial questions and trivial answers led to bitterness. When we seek immortality of the body, we ask where is God in all of this? The answer is nowhere.
At a deeper level, God does not give immortality of the body, nor should we demand it. The kingdom of God is about the flow of love — among people and with God — for eternity. The kingdom is moving and changing just as a cloud. The couple experienced the kingdom of God in the cloud of care. What could have been bitter — abandoned by God in what we want most — became inspiring — thank God for all of this!
For the surviving spouse there was of course mourning and tears. A void has been put in their lives. Yet, in a paradox to some, the person left behind spoke of gratitude as well. With the kingdom of God, love is the foundation and there is a bottom to the void. We are never completely alone, never completely cut off from love. Gratitude and peace can follow even after great loss.
Thank God for all of this!