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How then shall we live?

by davesandel on October 22nd, 2021

Friday, October 22, 2021                                (today’s lectionary)

How then shall we live?

Can you not judge for yourselves what is right? Otherwise, your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you to the constable, and the constable will throw you into prison. And you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

Driving home yesterday from Margaret’s cardiac rehab session (she’s about halfway through, they told her), I thought about the domino effect of putting someone else in charge of my life. If I am in pain or sick, I go to the doctor. Often the doctor wants to give me some tests. Depending on the tests, she will refer me to a specialist, who has more subtle, complicated tests for me to take. And this can go on for awhile.

Right now we are dealing with three sets of experts: for our eyes, our teeth, and our general health. There could easily be more. Not only does it get tedious, it takes us away from living the rest of our life. Anne Rice, in an interview about her book Interview with a Vampire, said of herself and all her readers, “It’s very difficult to realize that we are going to die, while day to day we have to think and move as though we are immortal.” It’s true too, that when we think about dying all the time, our lives can quickly become cheapened and depreciated. I believe that God’s work is never done, and God’s love never ends, but those beliefs go by the wayside when I’m in pain. I forget. I get demanding and desperate.

Let your kindness comfort me according to your promise.

Let your compassion come to me that I may live.

Through your law you give me life. I am yours; you save me.

Upon receiving his cancer diagnosis, Wendell Berry’s character Nathan Coulter said to his frantic wife Hannah, “Dear Hannah. I’m going to live right on. Dying is none of my business. Dying will have to take care of itself.” He came to me then. He held me a long time as if under a passing storm, and then the quiet came. I fixed some supper, and we ate.

Hannah went back with her daughters to the doctor. “Nathan doesn’t want to die of a cure,” she told him.

And then the two of them, they lived right on. “Living right on called for nothing out of the ordinary. We made no changes. We only accepted the changes as they came.”

Margaret talks about dying as the Native Americans did, by retreating to the “long house” and waiting for her “good day to die.” Nathan Coulter did just that. Few Americans can summon up that kind of stubbornness, and of course it might not even be a good thing. It usually isn’t good for their families.

On our way home yesterday we passed countless clinics and specialists, all with big signs beaming their names out onto the expressway, all with the mostly unspoken promise of better health for better living. Those of us in the baby boomer generation are going to stick around absolutely as long as we can, but we need their help.

Brothers and sisters, I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh … Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Last night I read most of a book a Lincoln friend wrote over the last four years, while he was being treated for pancreatic cancer. His story was very detailed. He pulled no punches. He is grateful to his caregivers and his family and to God. He is glad to be alive. His treatment was inconvenient and incredibly invasive, in many many ways. Without it, he would certainly have died.

Although it didn’t last four years, Margaret’s treatment had a similar effect on our lives. The book that details her life in the hospital this summer radiates gratitude for caregivers and family. Of course we baby boomers want to live as long as we can, as well as we can, and love our families every day we can. But it seems important to me, at least today, to count the cost.

(Romans 7, Psalm 119, Matthew 11, Luke 12)

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