And at the Hour of Our Death
Lay Reflection, Sunday, September 22, 2019
by Deborah Nimmons
(Today’s readings: Amos 8:4-7; Psalms 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Luke 16:1-13)
Who do you want to be at the end of your life?
A friend recently shared the following thought: “As we approach our death, we remain in character. Our essence comes forward as our vitality recedes. It is a motivation to cultivate our best selves” so that by the end of life, who we are is who we want to be.
Today’s readings tell us about the nature of God, what is corrupt and immoral, and what is godly.
The scripture condemns those who love money and power, who create inequity and injustice with greed, abuse, and lies. It calls on us to counter this immorality.
We are told to care for the poor and needy, to show devotion and rest on the Sabbath, to pray for everyone (including those in authority), to be without anger or argument, to uphold human dignity, to know and stand for the truth and to be honest and trustworthy in everything, to be good stewards of and generous with what God has given us (which is everything we have). These activities are heavenly currency, the only currency God values.
What does a life lived with heavenly currency look like?
Christine Valters Painter in her book “Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire” sums up how to approach this practice from a spiritually authentic place. She says, “the spiritual journey is a lifetime invitation to notice the places we have fallen asleep and then awaken again and again — to the beauty of the world, to the abundance of our lives, to the sacredness and dignity of each person, to our own giftedness, to the ways we are called to share those gifts with others, and to the power of love and kindness when we are able to release them into the world.”
What I hear in this passage are the need for observation, reflection, personal assessment, an open heart, a teachable spirit, generosity — centering all of this through love and kindness — and doing so for a lifetime.
After a loved one dies, we gather to share our stories of them. If you listen, you learn about who that person was to others. This is also a time when we take stock of our emotional and spiritual inheritance and of who we are.
My father, the Reverend Dr. Billy Truett Nimmons, died at home around 5 a.m. on Friday, August 9th with my mother by his side. Five a.m. is about the time he woke up most every morning of his adult life, so it was fitting that he should get up at that time and go home.
Daddy began every day with Bible study and prayer (an excellent practice for reflection, assessment, and learning). From very young, I knew that this was how both of my parents began the day. Just so you understand – Prayer for them was not a one way affair, but an active and open dialogue with God. I sometimes joke that Jesus has coffee with my mother every morning. So, if you’re looking for him, he’s probably there. This is my heritage.
My parents also tithed generously, firmly believing that it was all God’s anyway. The Catholic Church doesn’t ask us to give a specific percentage of income, but says we are obliged to help meet the needs of the Church for worship and charity. As the readings tell us, God cares about worldly currency only to the extent it impacts our lives: do we love it or do we use it for God’s purposes? In other words: we are to convert worldly currency into heavenly currency. This is our heritage.
Although my father was sick for a long time with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the end came swift and sudden.
Like bees to buttermilk we gathered together, numb with shock, humming with grief, and shared our stories. We heard from people in the local community and from far away how he was present for pretty much every life event – crisis or celebration – counseling, comforting, laughing his big beautiful laugh, hugging his heartfelt bear hugs, telling the worst jokes and the tallest tales, or engaging in whatever way needed by whoever was present. He loved people, and people knew it.
A godly life doesn’t require perfection. Like all of us, my father had flaws. But he used his talents and his brokenness to serve others.
He encouraged those with worldly means to see and meet the needs of the poor and others who needed help, but he also ministered to the needs of those with worldly means, because as the gospel tells us, money and power aren’t everything and certainly aren’t the most important. Daddy stood up for truth and human dignity. When you love people, you have to. He confronted racism, supported women in leadership, and during the early stages of the AIDs crisis, he promoted education and compassionate service. He presided over funerals for those whom others refused to bury. He helped secure senior housing and services for abused women and children. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. You see, he made a commitment to God as a high school senior, and he never looked back. He was determined to serve God with all he had.
But even with all of this, the story that stands out most for me took place in the last week of Daddy’s life. Hospice brought his admissions paperwork the Saturday before he died, but they couldn’t bring a bed for him until Monday. So my parents had to get through the weekend without a secure place for him to sleep. He ended up falling a few times, one of which was pretty severe, and Mama had to call the EMTs to help him into the reclining chair where he was to sleep. As the EMTs got him to the chair ready to sit down, Daddy stopped and asked them, “May I pray for you?” They looked pretty shocked that someone they had just helped off the floor would ask such a question, but said, “yes.” And Daddy proceeded to express deep, sincere gratitude to God for these people who would come and help him and to ask God’s blessing on them. When he was finished, he sat down.
Even at the end of life, without properly functioning mind or limbs, it was second nature for him to praise God and be grateful for the kindness of others, to offer thanks and kindness when that was all he had left to give. When I reflect on who I want to be at the end of life, this is my heritage. It is the heritage of all of us as Children of God. Even should I be sick or impaired in any way, should I forget everything else, that I would remember the love of God and to share that love with others.