Monday, March 30, 2009

Matters of death and life

This morning, St John's hosted the funeral of a lady whose name was unfamiliar to members of the congregation. She had left specific instructions that her final farewell should be here. She was one of the many Cardiffians who slip into church from time to time, for prayer and recollection. I don't think she was a regular churchgoer. Her devotion, like so many mothers and grandmothers was centred in her love for the family, cherishing and nurturing them all in love. This was her special place, the sanctuary where she found strength to love others, especially in the thirty seven years of her widowhood. It's a story, familiar to us, of hidden grace. People like her, and there are so many of them, do not show up in all the statistical data which church bureacracy seems obsessed with gathering year on year, even though nobody is certain if any of it ever really gets used for anything.

It's that much hated time of Annual Returns and Audits again, the Lenten penance which saps us of grace, by reducing us to the same level as any secular corporation. Asking the Body of Christ in any place "How are you doing?" - surely the purpose of the exercise, - is not really answerable in facts and figures (lies, damned lies, and statistics). But this is what is required of us. I shall always be resentful about the exercise, though we have nothing to hide. I see more people worshipping with us regularly, and thank God for it. Better to come along and share the joy, than inspect bits of paper in a remote office.

When I got home from the last session of 'God on Mondays' for this term, there was a message on the answering machine about Peggy, who had taken a turn for the worse and wasn't expected to last long. I picked my bottle of holy oil, and headed off to Ty Enfys care home to see her. She was still conscious, sitting up, breathing poorly, her lungs filled with fluid that is getting harder to drain off. She smiled and greeted me warmly. We sat quietly and talked. She is so looking forward to leaving for her heavenly home, as she puts it. Looking forward to re-union with all she has loved but sees no longer, quite unafraid of death. She has lived with life threatening illness for too long to be much troubled. She simply radiates graciousness. I held her hand and sat quiet for a good while with her before praying and anointing her. She clearly enjoyed that, poorly though she was.

She doesn't strive to stay alive, she simply rests content to let everything be as God pleases, and several times when its seemed that she was too ill to survive another day, she has rallied, and greeted anxious visitors with her radiant smile. When we said our farewells. I wondered if I'd see her again.

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