Wall Street Journal op-ed: Dying Gives Us a Chance to Confront Truth, by C. Kavin Rowe (Duke University Divinity School; author, Christianity's Surprise: A Sure and Certain Hope (2020)):
Since my wife entered hospice, we’ve grown closer together and deeper in our faith.
The Covid-19 pandemic has swept away the illusions that led [church congregations]—and much of the world—to ignore death. The virus will kill only a small minority of the world. Yet its prevalence has reminded people everywhere that if Covid-19 doesn’t kill them, something else will. Thisrealization recalls a truth central to the Christian tradition: No one will get out of life alive.
Over time Christians developed a set of practices to help us tell this truth and to prepare for death. In the Middle Ages this was called the ars moriendi, the art of dying. Today, a quick death often is seen as ideal. Yet the ars moriendi holds the opposite view: It’s a good thing to see death coming and to have time to prepare. Time and habit provide the chance to live fully and—even at the last hour—become a mature human being, one who tells the truth.
I know this firsthand because my dying wife tells the truth. When she was referred to hospice some time ago, after a long and painful decline, she simply noted, “I don’t want to die. I want to finish raising our son.”
Through attentive care, hospice has extended her life—and with it the chance to talk about our successes, failures, hopes, sorrows, beliefs, and doubts. The demand to face death created a new chance to grow closer together and deeper in our faith. We don’t have time to argue about what a “messy kitchen” means when we’re focused on sharing the truths we need to hear: I love you. I wish we could grow old together. I wanted to know our son’s wife and our grandchildren. I will be with you until the end. ...
Jesus teaches that the way to a full life is through facing death. That teaching holds up. My wife has not been healed and will never get better. But somehow we are on the path of life. Telling the truth and training for death is agonizing, but it also has provided consolation. Death no longer seems far away; training for it and experiencing its closeness has brought certain gifts. These gifts of clarity of purpose and love are what human beings spend much of their lives longing for and failing to find.
Covid-19 is not a blessing. ... No sane person would ever give thanks for a pandemic. But if we take the chance it gives us to become truth-tellers, lovers and reconcilers, we may well wind up giving thanks for what we have become.
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