Tag Archive: hope

Top five regrets of the dying

This is not morbid, honest, but well worth a few minutes’ reading and consideration.

Perusing the books in a local library (yes, there are still some left, despite the cuts) I came across a book by Bronnie Ware called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”. Intrigued I gave it a glance or two – a false positive in a diagnosis recently had me giving some serious thought to my mortality so I had the frame of mind of wanting to make sure that my affairs were in order. (They are, after a fashion, but there is only so much filing one wants to do when the sun is shining).

So, I’ve borrowed the book but I shall not read all of it through; I found the list of “five regrets” thought-provoking enough. The book started out as a post on Bronnie Ware’s blog and you might like to take a look – useful summary or starting point as you wish. It is based on her experiences working in palliative care with patients who were dying. From my experience as a pastor, and as a mortal human being, they ring true. However, there is no mention of God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit with the list, and I wonder why.

The five regrets of the dying that Bronnie Ware identifies:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier

And the point of identifying these regrets is so that the living might do something about them while there is yet time.

The fact is, no life is perfect, and it would be very easy to find something to regret – and the danger is to let the regrets take hold of us. Thankfully neither death nor regret need have the last word: God’s gift of Resurrection and hope have seen to that.

Listen up, folks; he’s on his way…

… or something like that. I was browsing through a hymn book, “Common Praise”, and came across this traditional hymn. Please don’t ask me what ‘heaven’s arches’ are or how they ring (last verse). However, I particularly like the third verse. Yes, it is all very Victorian and they don’t write them like that any more, but it does convey a sense of what Advent is supposed to be about: hope.

Hope because God keeps his promises. Hope represented in Jesus Christ coming to our world.

Hark the glad sound!The Saviour comes,
The Saviour promised long;
Let every heart prepare a throne,
And every voice a song.
He comes the prisoners to release,
In Satan’s bondage held;
The gates of brass before Him burst,
The iron fetters yield.
He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of His grace
To enrich the humble poor.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
Thy welcome shall proclaim;
And heaven’s eternal arches ring
With Thy belovèd name.

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)

We do understand that in general it is best to leave a wild creature alone and that trying to help can sometimes make matters worse. On this occasion the hedgehog was spotted on the grass verge in broad daylight early one evening. It had obviously hurt its leg so it was carefully picked up (the wearing of gardening gloves was deemed necessary) and brought up the lane to our back garden.

We found an old cardboard box and while one of us found worms and slugs with which to feed it, another went indoors to phone the RSPCA or anyone else who might help or advise. The evening wore on and we wondered whether we were going to have to make a better shelter for the poorly animal or else let it go and let it take its chances.

Later than we would have liked, we got a call to say to take it to a local vets’. Apparently for wild animals there was to be no charge; which is just as well as I overheard one caller being told the evening charge was £119 and that was before any treatment costs. So off we went with the gerbil carrier, some straw and broken hedgehog.

I guessed the outcome of our visit when the person staffing the reception said, “I’ll just take this through to the nurse and we will return the container to you.” How were we going to break the news to the youngest member our family? Well, a few minutes later a vetinary nurse came out with the empty container and bad news. Not only was the leg broken but there were other internal injuries and the hedgehog was destined for “hedgehog heaven”.

To our relief the news was greeted better than we might have expected. We reasoned that dying at the vets’ was better than dying a slow death through starvation or being eaten by a fox. The nurse thanked us for our trouble and we went on our way.

I mention resurrection but I do not mean reincarnation as some creature in another life in this world; nor do I mean resuscitation – a last minute reprieve or recovery for the animal. Some people talk about having a soul: some essential part of our identity which is invisible and separate from the physical body which we can see and touch. Some people would say that only human beings possess a soul, others would say that all creatures have them. Either way, resurrection would be understood as the soul escaping the body and thus escaping death.

If you do not believe we have a soul then such a resurrection is meaningless. But the Christian belief in resurrection does not depend upon whether we have such a thing as a soul or at least on a particular understanding of what a soul might be. Nor does it mean that “saved” people cannot die. Rather it means that after we have died (that is to say, death is real) there is the hope and possibility of a new life – the result of God’s miraculous power which Christians believe was revealed by Jesus Christ’s resurrection. And if God is God, then he will do what is exactly right for everyone and for everything – that is one of the ways of understanding the idea of “a new heaven and a new earth”.

What does that mean for our hedgehog? I don’t know, but I inclined to believe that resurrection is a real possibility and that what ever God does it will be what is right for that hedgehog. Where is that hedgehog now? Probably buried somewhere – but its future lies elsewhere.

Hope for Easter

It is not a short book and there is plenty to think about: “Surprised by Hope” by Tom Wright. So far I have read most of it including the last chapter and the appendix. I discovered a while ago that there are some books that you don’t have to read every chapter in order nor read every single word. This is one of those books and if you like taking time over a book this is one you might like to read.

The main theme is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the message of hope that it brings. Bishop Tom describes how this makes a difference both to how individuals may see their future after death but also to how we shape society in the present. In other words, how we live now as individuals and as a society can be done in the light of the message of hope the Jesus’ resurrection brings.

A key point that the author makes is that the first Christians believed in and preached the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This causes some people, including committed Christians, problems. If the phrase “bodily resurrection” conjures up a picture of a resuscitated body you would be forgiven for imagining that we’re talking about some kind of zombie! I remember a conversation with a Methodist minister who objected to the bodily resurrection on the grounds that it implied that Jesus was an animated corpse – his preferred take on the resurrection was to talk about it in spiritual terms. The problem with that view is that it seems to restrict the resurrection to the sphere of ideas and feelings.

Tom Wright clarifies the position by reminding us that what the New Testament asserts is that Jesus really did die and then, through the action of God’s power, was raised to new life in a transformed body. Thus the person whom the disciples met after the resurrection was the same Jesus Christ they knew but with a new, real body. This event is unique in our experience and therefore not easily examined by sceptical enquiry. Either this event happened and is outside our normal experience or it did not happen. It is not credible to dismiss this event just because it lies outside out normal experience.

If the resurrection of Jesus is real then it tells us something. To his disciples, after the shock and disbelief of their initial reaction, it told them that “Jesus is Lord”. That is to say, Jesus is both God and Messiah. (Working out the precise theology of that mystery has taken centuries, since Christians believe in one God but also believe that Jesus is God.) If Jesus is God and Messiah, then he is someone to be taken very seriously. In fact, it means that we have work to do. Tom Wright’s next point is that it then follows that both Christian Baptism and Christian ethics are based on the anticipation of our resurrection with a transformed body after death – just as Jesus did. Death, though real and painful enough,  does not have the last word.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a hope; a real, tangible hope but not just  “spiritual wishful thinking”.

The message of Easter is not first and foremost that death is not real (it is), nor is it that we may go to heaven after we die (we may), but that Jesus is Lord, Jesus was raised from the dead never to die again, Jesus went in his real, transformed body back to heaven (which means that there is a little bit of earth already in heaven). It means that heaven (where we could see God face to face) is a lot closer than we think and we have the possibility of earth being made more heaven-like if we work with the grain of God’s will rather than against it.

This book is not for the general reader: if you find the latest Discworld novel, an Agatha Christie whodunnit or a Tom Clancy thriller challenging enough then this book may not be an easy read. However, if you’ve read C. S. Lewis, then you may find some food for further thought here to get your teeth into.

Whether or not you decide to read this book, may I wish you a blessed Easter and may you, too, discover the hope that Easter stands for.

Slithers of gold

When I first glanced at this I thought, “Oh no, not another impossibly optimistic song of praise!” Having trudged on in a hymn at the other dour extreme, a hymn in another book seemed to be unrealistic about the joys of morning. The first line began “Today I awake” and goes on to talk sentimentally about how God “patterns the morning”.

I must take care to avoid jumping to conclusions from such cursory glances. Although this hymn has been placed in the “morning and evening” category that is not the whole story. In fact, if I had bothered to read the whole poem through, I would have discovered that its main theme is God’s faithfulness in all kinds of situation both good and bad. “God never sleeps…Christ is beside me…The Spirit inspires…called me to life and call me their friend”. Not only is God present but he also is there to help us move on “to hope and to heal…from broken to blest”.

The tune accompanying it I found somewhat mournful – or perhaps I would have said ‘wistful’ had I been in a better mood when I played it. The only real criticism is a point about the language we use when talking about God the Trinity: the last verse talks about the three persons and so concludes “they called me…” which is grammatically correct. Unfortunately, it could also be a bit misleading because the Christian belief is that there is one God in Trinity.

It turns out that this hymn is hopeful, rather than wildly optimistic, as well as realistic. The morning may well be patterned with slithers of gold but God may also reveal “glory in grey”; and that almost throw-away phrase is the one I find the most encouraging and affirming line of all. God is in the stuff we do understand, as well in the miracles that we don’t; God is in the ordinary times as well as in the special ones.

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