Near-Death Experiences

It was a near-death experience, the kind that frequents the life of a pastor, but less frequent for a retired pastor.

Just minutes after Ann died, I stood at her bedside along with her three devoted daughters. For many days, Joyce, Deb and Kay had been loving their mother—embracing, stroking, bathing, changing diapers, feeding, smiling, singing, praying gratitude. “Full circle,” I thought. Here, in this bed by the window, they had been caring for their mother in precisely the same way they were cared for at birth. As we held hands across her bed, the Mystery sank in on multiple levels: ending and beginning, death and birth.

In Western culture death is primarily denied. And feared too. We push the awareness of death down into our unconscious only to experience its projection all over our media screens. But mostly, except when death invades our intimate circles, our conscious thinking does a good job in keeping it “out of sight, out of mind.”

As pastors we don’t have this option. I’m glad. The experience of dying and death is always “near.” Like no other professional, we are expected to show up all along the continuum—from early stages of dying to death rituals to follow-through grief ministry.

Back to Ann lying lifeless before us. I kept to myself the question demanding a response: With Ann, as she was, now gone, is there “something” that lasts? In all the impermanence, is there any permanence? Is there “reality” behind these appearances, “something” invisible, “something” gracious and awesome and beautiful?

For certain, “love” was and had been present—the hard, sweaty, sleepless, earthy, self-emptying kind. No question about that.

I turned to the words I always do, Paul’s bold effort to name this Presence: “Love never ends . . . and no-thing now or later, in life or death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then I went home and hugged Janice so hard, she said, “What’s gotten into you?”

3 Responses to Near-Death Experiences

  1. Ben Wagener says:

    Mahan,

    One of my clergy friends, who was pastor in an aging congregation, performed nearly 30 funerals one year. In the midst of all these challenges, he said that early one morning his wife awoke to see him suddenly spring up out of his sleep, saying: “I am the resurrection and the life—–!” She supposedly said: “Not yet. Go back to sleep.”

    As a pastor for nearly 40 years,I have found being with people during a family death is a privilege and a rediscovery of the pain and promise surrounding death in the mystery of God’s loving presence. For example, I recently preached the memorial service of Reverend Ginny, my sister-in-law. Before leaving for the service, I was alone on a couch in her apartment with her ashes in an urn beside me.I found myself dearly missing her but sensed that she was not only fine but that her contagious laughter would go on.
    Ben

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  2. Ed Beddingfield says:

    David Kelsey, my systematic theology professor in seminary, said this about whatever is permanent, and it fits pretty well with what Mahan quotes about “Love never ends” and “What shall separate us …” Kelsey said:

    Only God is eternal. And God is love. Therefore God’s love is eternal. And God loves me. Therefore God’s love for me is also eternal. Therefore, some way or another, there must be some “me” which will be eternally around for God to love eternally.

    Sounds complicated, but it comforts me to focus on eternal love as an attribute (or activity) of God, rather than to place my eternal hope on some kind of immortality on my part.

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  3. deborah suess says:

    I too find the journey into death with my friends and parishoners to be very very holy ground. I recently journeyed with my step mom as she was dying. I noticed that being present as her daughter (instead of the pastor) allowed me to experience not only the holy ground-ness of it all but also the many moments of laughter and silliness. Gloria said she’d try to ticle my toes from beyond if possible. Haven’t felt my toes tickled yet – but as you all have already expressed – have felt that love that never ends.

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