This week, I was back at the Big City Hospital in Amish Country, working a mere four hours which I still do once a month as a chaplain associate. Sometimes those tiny bits of time involve far more than when one is there for 10 hours, or maybe that is just my experience. I was called by an ER nurse to come to a room where there was a "potentially bad outcome," which means that in all likelihood someone is going to die. While headed there I was called and informed that the patient's wife was now in the waiting area. Separated from her beloved for what I am sure seems like eternity just beyond those doors. He was a pastor for 38 years who could never bring himself to really retire because " when God has called you with gifts, you don't get to give them back," she shared wistfully. In these words echoed words of another dying pastor's wife who once told me the hardest thing to learn was that " I/we would never be first on his mind." Her calling,which we often overlook, was to be the loving wife who moved every three years or so with him. Who loved him and his ministry and who discovered she had gifts she did not even know she had. Most recently the gift of nursing after his earlier stroke. We talked about hard gifts. He had recovered beautifully. Just out of rehab last week, the day before was his first day back at the congregation. And just last night she had asked him if the long rehab journey was worth it. And he had told her that it was, but that if today was his last day that was OK too because whenever God called him home, he was ready.
The next morning, he woke up and came out to her, trying to talk, and collapsed. And here we were- smacked in the face with potentiality which is now reality. Nothing more to do, his life fading away. The living will now more than pieces of paper with print. And if he could still have spoken, perhaps it would have been something like this prayer by a pastor cognizant of his own impending mortality-
A Prayer Before Dying by Carlyle Marney:
If entering now the zenith of my brief arc around and within creation I should enter God’s grand hall tomorrow, called to my account for myself, I should offer this confession and defense if indeed I could do more than call down. But if able to give vocal response at all, I should say this, “Thou knowest, dear Lord of our lives, that for fifty of Thy/my years in ignorance, zest, zeal and sin I lived as if creation and I had no limit. I lived and wanted as if I had forever, without regard for time or wit or strength or need or limit or endurance and as if sleep were a heedless luxury and digestion an automatic process. But Thou, O Lord of real love did snatch my bit and ride me into Thy back pasture and didst rub my nose in my vulnerability and didst split my lungs into acquiescence and didst freeze my colon in grief loss and didst press me into that long depression at the anger I directed against myself. And Thou didst read over my shoulder my diary of that long journey when I did melt before Thee as a mere preacher. Thou didst hear.
Hear now my pitiable defense. In all my sixty years I killed no creature of Thine I did not need for food except for a few rattlesnakes, a turtle or two, two quail I left overlong in my coat and three geese poisoned on bad grain before I shot them in Nebraska, plus one wood duck in Korea. In all my years I consciously battered no child though my own claimed much need to forgive me. And consciously misused no person. Thou knowest my aim to treat no human being as thing, never to hate overlong, to pass no child without catching his or her eye and my innermost wish to love as Thou doest love by seeing no shade of color or class.
And Thou didst long ago hear my cry to let me go from Paducah. Thou knowest my covenant with Elizabeth in our youth and Thou knowest it has been kept better than my covenant with Thee and wilst Thou forgive? Indeed Thou hast.
Hear now my intention with grace as if it were fact. I do and have intended to be responsible in creation by covenant and where I have defaulted do Thou forgive. Forgive Thou my vicarious responsibility for all the defection from Thy purpose of all Thy responsible creatures and accept this my admission of utter dependency on Thy mercy.
Naked I came into the world, how I am dressed at the conclusion makes no difference. A pair of jeans or a Glasgow robe, it makes no difference. Meantime, well I mow, I cut wood for winter, I clean drainage ditches, I preach what is happening and look to see what God will do in the earth. I watch out always for babies and little rabbits in front of my mower and old folks nearby and black snakes worth preserving, and little puppies on the road, and the young-old who stutter and laugh and can’t hear too. The cry of us all, “Come Lord Jesus, come."