Sunday, January 18, 2015

Grace in Dying and Friendship with God

The funeral for one of the members of our centering prayer group was yesterday. Anna and I were privileged to deliver parts of her eulogy. I'm pasting in my part of the eulogy below; four of us spoke. Clara, who died of lung cancer, had asked that Anna write and then read a poem as her part of the eulogy. Anna will post her poem in a few days--Rickey

Clara Chapman: My Part of Her Eulogy

For me, Clara was a spiritual teacher, one of the most important in my life. The reason is because she modelled for me “grace in dying.” This phrase “grace in dying” is circulating now in some of the spiritual circles I move in. Because of Clara, I know what it actually looks like. It’s not just words for me.

Clara and I became spiritual friends after she got the news that her lung cancer was terminal, that she had just a year or so to live. Being the woman of God she was, she prayed hard about how to respond to her diagnosis and how to live the last days remaining to her. For many, many years, everything in her life had been dedicated to God, and this last year would be no different. In fact, it would be more so.

I am blessed that one of things God led Clara to do in her last year was to join the All Saints’ contemplative prayer group, which I facilitate. That’s how I came to know her.

Although contemplative prayer was new to her, she took to it, as the cliché says, like a duck to water.

One of the statements in her obituary that means a lot to me is that among her many activities of service and worship, she “especially looked forward to the Centering Prayer group on Monday evenings.”

A time of silent prayer is one of the major components of those evenings. As most of you know, Clara was always thinking of others, and she almost quit coming to Centering Prayer in her last few months because she didn’t want to be a distraction to us, she said. Those last few months she couldn’t go out without her portable oxygen machine, which was a bit noisy. She needed it to breathe, and she was afraid its noise would take away from our silent prayer time.

But it was just the opposite. Having Clara in our midst, with her courage and her wholesale commitment to God, took us along with her deeper into the presence of the Lord. It was clear to us that she was growing closer and closer to him, surrendering more and more completely to him, and her presence with us on Monday evenings and the noise of that portable oxygen machine had a sacramental effect on us. It brought us along with her into a closer and deeper relationship with God.

As a woman of God, Clara had many dimensions: faithful worship, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, volunteering at the thrift store, Sidewalk Sunday School, and many others. But for me, none was more important than her example of friendship with God. Clara was a woman who truly knew the Lord.


John Orzechowski said...

Thank you, Rickey, for sharing this personal reflection. Clara sounds like a wonderful woman. I had the privilege of also getting to know someone with a terminal illness through a centering prayer group a few years ago. I continue to think about his example of love and faith and humor in such difficult circumstances. I have heard people say that contemplative practice is a preparation for death--it helps us recognize that we are more than just the bundle of thoughts that runs through our mind, and that we are all like waves in an infinite ocean, part of something much greater that will continue on after our lives are gone.

Anna Cotton said...

John, it seems more than interesting that you also knew someone with a terminal illness who practiced centering prayer. I am touched by your description of his example of love, faith and humor. I find it deeply encouraging that such fruit is evident and enduring, particularly in difficult circumstances. Blessings, Anna

jen said...

I know it's been a while since I've been on this blog, but I have recently remembered my password and this group! Rickey, Clara sounds very big and strong in spite of her small stature (I also read your lovely poem, Anna!). The image of the oxygen tank being sacramental is striking to me; it inspires me to take a look around me and see what "noisy things" I'm carrying around and using as excuses not to participate in fellowship with other believers. I don't want to make excuses, and I certainly don't want to keep myself closed off from what could potentially be such a rich friendship as the one you have had with Clara.

RC said...

Jen, it's a delight to have you visit us again. We deeply value our relationship with you and are praying you and the family. Hope to see you sometime when you're in our area. Love and blessings, Rickey

Anna Cotton said...

Jen, I'm so glad you read and responded to our posting about our friend Clara who recently died. Rickey really captured the experience for us when he described the sound of her oxygen machine as sacramental. I liked your idea of finding other sounds in our lives that we could look at this way,and I think I found one last night at the PEACE meeting (15th Annual Nehemiah Action. Close to 2,000 people showed up. Because of the crowd, they rented the Youkey Theater at the Lakeland Center. Although it was largely an adult event, there were some folks there with children and babies. As the evening grew long, the babies grew fussy. It seems to me the sound of those cries was in the category of the sacramental. It might be a stretch, but I'm thinking of their cries as the people crying for change. Their cries also remind us why we are supporting the actions. We want change for us and for those who come after us, especially our children. Thanks again for responding. Love and blessings, Anna

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