A year or so ago a young woman whom I had known as a child and a teenager re-emerged in my orbit of friends. She had had a traumatic, abusive life and had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was 45 now. She has been back in touch with a couple of her several estranged sons. She had recently converted to Islam. She was living in a loving, caring community housed in a number of simple terraced houses in a small street in Bradford. ‘Our TLC’ offers residential care for learning difficulties, mental health and substance abuse. God breathes through the pores of ‘Our TLC’!
Susan (not her real name) had been through unspeakable things in her life, but when I reconnected with her, she still had the impish smile and giddy personality I remembered. After a number of hospital stays, she found herself needing to use a wheelchair. At this point, she decided she wanted a wake before she died! A party to celebrate her life with friends and family whilst she was still alive! The other TLC residents and staff rallied round and worked with the help of the local pub landlady to arrange it, publicise it, make food for it, book a DJ and decorate the pub.
I went along, with my daughter, who had been friends with Susan when they were growing up. The love, joy of life, and hope were palpable. Susan had chosen a bright dress and glam shoes which she wore with joy and pride sat in her wheelchair with a big beam on her face, and seemingly oblivious to the various tubes attached to her. Her TLC friends reminded me of Jesus’ disciples – a motley crew! – and their love for Susan screamed compassion, understanding, acceptance, unconditional love. The music was joyful, celebratory – and when Rick Astley’s ‘Never goin’ to give you up, never goin’ to let you down’ blasted through the speakers, Susan danced in her wheelchair with my daughter, as they relived their friendship thirty or so years earlier! The spirit of Godness was everywhere in that pub bar. Goodness oozed from every pore of humanity, and every fibre of being.
It wasn’t many weeks after that when Susan died. Knowing her wish to be buried as a Moslem, the TLC staff made the arrangements within the customary 24 hours. Her family wanted to hold a Christian ‘thanksgiving’ service for her sometime later, in a church in a local town. I went to that service. I found it sterile, forced, ersatz compared with the wake. Jesus was at the wake, dancing, laughing, joining in the joy. He was not in the church. Maybe he was outside weeping.
Or maybe he was in the pub.
16/5/2023 04:28:27 pm
You remind me Paul of a book I read years ago’Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom. He tells how he rediscovered his mentor Morrie at college in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying of ALS - or motor neurone disease - Mitch visited Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Knowing that he was soon to die Morrie did what your friend did ,and invited family & friends to a pre-funeral party, so that they could say to one another the words that they’d otherwise have wished they said at his funeral.
23/5/2023 08:45:03 pm
Yes, Henry. I’ve read that book more than once, and am energised by its story.
23/5/2023 11:52:17 am
Dear Paul, in this time of 'good news stories drought' I found your story both uplifting and moving. It echoes my own experience in that when I see life (especially in the face of death) being created between people and within people too, I see the God Presence. Sadly I see that more often outside the life of the Church than within it. There is a dearth of transformative life in many church congregations that I have known.
23/5/2023 08:43:13 pm
Thank you Mike. Yes, I find too often that the Church ‘squeezes the life out of God’ rather than allowing God to breathe.
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Just wanting to say “yes” to this. You will be speaking for, and to, many. I will certainly be passing this on to others, and will contribute some thoughts myself later.
So, I was delighted to see Feral Spirituality make an appearance. I'd think you could find many wanting to join in