Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Place for Gratitude

I invite you to close your eyes and visualize what we often refer to as the first Thanksgiving in America – the one along the shores of the Massachusetts Bay with the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors in 1621.  And it’s okay to visualize like you were taught in Elementary School.  (Open eyes)  What did you see? Tell me.

Some of that may be true and other parts have been added in the tradition.  For example:

It wasn’t actually “the first Thanksgiving.”  Both Native Americans and Europeans had been having all kinds of harvest thanksgiving festivals for ages.  And there were others noted in our history which some consider our first Thanksgiving – like after the Thanksgiving festival that was proclaimed in Massachusetts in 1647 – after the massacre of the Pequot people.

But the 1621 feast is what people later looked back on and lifted up in the history books.  The holiday wasn’t made official until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared it as a kind of thank you for the Civil War victories in Vicksburg, MS and Gettysburg PA.  

Another myth may be the make up of the menu – turkey and sweet potato pie!  Probably not.  There was no mention of turkey at the 1621 bounty – and there was no pie (they had no oven or flour) – and no sweet potatoes.  It IS recorded that the Wampanoag natives brought five deer to the feast and the Pilgrims went out for wild fowl so there may have been wild fowl as well – possibly ducks, or geese or turkey. 

In our elementary school plays – the pilgrims invite the Indians – there’s no mention of an invitation.  Perhaps the leaders decided together – as some form of diplomacy to join their harvest feasts.  They do mention the games though – so all is well.

The role of Sqanto is also complicated.  He wasn’t just some native coming out of the woods to help.  He was more like their savior.  Tisquantum – known as Squanto was a part of the Patuxet, a band of the Wampanoag tribe who had previously lived right where the Pilgrims settled – Plymouth.  He was captured by the English in 1614 and sold into slavery – first in Spain, then in England.  While in England, he learned to speak English – and was able to catch a ride back to his homeland.  But when he got back – he found that all of his people in the little village were dead of the plague – brought to them by the Europeans.  Nevertheless, when the Pilgrims showed up in that deserted place, he sort of adopted them - assisted them, translated for them, taught them how to grow corn and more.  

SO – why do we bother to lift-up this little band of Europeans – and why am I sharing about this here at a Unitarian Universalist Congregation?  Well folks, these are our spiritual ancestors.  The little church they formed there in Plymouth is the Unitarian Universalist Church, the oldest one in America.

The one there now is the First Parrish Meeting House of 1899 – built to replace a church that was burned.  Our former members, Pauline and Bob, are members of this church.

This little band of settlers didn’t have an easy time of it. They were severely persecuted back in Scrooby England.  William Bradford, the first Governor of the new colony, describes what life was like for the Separatists in England:

They could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted and persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison with those now came upon them… Some were taken and clapt up in prison. Others had their houses besett and wacht night and day, and hardly escaped their hands. And the most were faine to flie and leave their houses and habitations, and the means of their livelihood. Yet, seeing themselves thus molested, and that there was no hope of their continuance there, by a joynt consent, they resolved to goe into the Low Countries, where they heard was freedom of religion for all.

So - These separatists left for religious freedom – or freedom from the Church of England.  They first settled in lowlands of Holland – but became concerned as their children began to pick up the Dutch language and Dutch Ways – so they went back to England and prepared to set out for a new home in the New World – hoping to land in the Virginia area, but end up 300 miles north.

Here’s a short video clip about the trip.


They end up in the little settlement that was formerly the home of Squanto’s tribe.  And strived to do their best to make it through the winter.  It’s bitter and hard – and only half of them make it through.  But, they end up learning from Squanto, having a good summer crop, and deciding to celebrate a year after their initial arrival. 

In his musing about this, Rev. Scott Alexander writes:

It is spiritually important that we not romanticize that first American Thanksgiving as some carefree festival of reckless joy. With apologies to Hallmark and my well-meaning fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Daley, the Pilgrims seated at that first Thanksgiving table were haggard survivors—exhausted men and women still thin and weak, wearing little more than rags. Yes, they were grateful to have endured, to be sure, but looming over whatever happy feelings they mustered must have lingered incredibly deep measures of grief and fear.

It’s a miracle of the heart that those pilgrims could even think of giving thanks to God, or celebrating life’s bounty with their Wampanoag neighbors. No one could have really blamed them if, as the first anniversary of their arrival in America approached, they had decided to hold a service of mourning for the dead and withdrawn into their own sadness in the gathering autumnal darkness.

It seems to me that what makes the real Thanksgiving story so remarkable is not the joy which the Pilgrims and Wampanoags shared on that day, but rather that their painful backdrop of grief was not allowed to block out their celebration. What makes that first American harvest festival so nobly instructive is our remembering the profound depths of misery which preceded the Pilgrim’s decision to celebrate and share. Somehow they were able to choose gratitude over bitterness, generosity over greed, thanksgiving over self-pity.

And that is why I chose to share about this First Thanksgiving to begin my message that responds to the question:  What are we here for?  The response today is – to grow gratitude.  And our spiritual ancestors provide a good example for us.

These Thanksgiving pilgrims had endured terrible hardships and had another, perhaps, terrible winter before them that November.   Yet – they chose to focus on gratitude. 

Now these Pilgrims did not have the research to back up their actions as beneficial – they were just grateful folks.  But unlike our spiritual ancestors, we UU’s (who love good evidence) DO have significant research pointing to the positive outcomes of expressing gratitude.

I went to the Harvard Medical School site to get this information to share with you, so hopefully you’ll deem it credible.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week's assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being.

Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

(And there were other studies that described how gratitude motivated folks in their workplace)

There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.

I hated writing thank-you notes when I was a child.  I can assure you that it did not make me happier.  But in my old age, perhaps I have developed that emotional maturity – or just have more wisdom.  And I am learning – that when I incorporate a discipline – a practice – of expressing gratitude, IT DOES help me – and I hope the folks I’m thanking.

Did you get a thank you note from me this week?  I sat down and for three or four days – made thank you cards for each person who submitted a pledge to us this year.  And as I drew or colored in your chalice or whatever I put on your card, I purposely thought about you and the gifts you bring to this congregation – and to me personally.  With each stroke, I felt and expressed the gratitude – as I did when I wrote the note. 

Here are some other practices in addition to writing notes that the folks at Harvard suggest.

Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual – even if they’ve already gone to that great beyond.  I invite you to do this now.

Another, of course, is to Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.  Some folks do that as a blessing at dinner with their loved ones.

(Sing) “Count your many blessings name them one by one”

Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you. – (Like the poet Alexander thinking about that butter.)

And finally Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude. And/or Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).

Now sometimes it’s HARD to focus on our blessings when life is hitting us hard.  I don’t want to be all Pollyanna and say that you don’t feel the hurt, the pain, the bitterness.  Of COURSE you do.  Of course I DO.  And that’s why I look to stories like the first Thanksgiving to motivate me.

These Unitarian Universalist spiritual ancestors and the Native folks had ALL been through countless hells, lost loved ones, experienced sickness, starvation, and deep, deep grief.  Yet on that day in November 1621 – they came together to share their food and their gratitude – and all were better for it.

Some say that as Unitarian Universalists, we have no Central religious faith practice as other Religions do.  Rev, Galen Guengerich addressed this in a sermon at All Souls New York in 2007 entitled, The Heart of Our Faith.  He said:

I realize the idea of faith as a discipline may also sound like heresy to many Unitarian Universalists. Unless our faith is mere intellectual affectation, however, the defining element of our faith must be a daily practice of some kind. What kind of practice? For Jews, the defining discipline is obedience: To be a faithful Jew is to obey the commands of God. For Christians, the defining discipline is love: To be a faithful Christian is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. For Muslims, the defining discipline is submission: To be a faithful Muslim is to submit to the will of Allah.

And what of us? What should be our defining religious discipline? While obedience, love, and even submission each play a vital role in the life of faith (says Guengerich), my current conviction is that our defining discipline should be gratitude. In the same way that Judaism is defined by obedience, Christianity by love, and Islam by submission, I believe that Unitarian Universalism should be defined by gratitude.

I like that as a central practice for Unitarian Universalism.  Being Grateful.

So this week especially – let us commit to that practice and ethic of gratitude.  And let us start today by being grateful for what we find here – at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro. 

On Friday, I wrote to our listserv and to our Facebook group asking folks to help me compose a liturgy of gratitude – and I’m grateful that many of you responded.  I’ve taken your responses and summarized and edited them into this little liturgyy for us.  I’ll share some of the things mentioned – and your response will simply be “We are so grateful.”

For a wonderful meetinghouse without a mortgage – that is in a great location:

We are SO grateful.

For good worship services and programs provided every Sunday morning.

We are SO grateful.

For a UU Church home away from home for some folks, who are greeted with deep smiles and “Welcome Back” and “Nice to see you again.”

We are SO Grateful.

For the good folks who get here early and prepare coffee and refreshments every Sunday without fail.

We are SO Grateful.

For those who have accepted leadership positions on the board and in committees and given more than their share of time, talents, and treasure to this congregation

We are SO Grateful.

For a place where everyone’s gifts are valued –

We are SO Grateful.

For the interesting and caring people we meet here, and the friendships we make

We are SO Grateful.

For teachers and childcare folks who give their love and time to our children while teaching and modeling our principles and values,

We are SO Grateful.
For parents and grandparents who get up on Sunday in time to get themselves and their child or children to church, contributing their energy to our synergy, enlarging our village and enriching us all.

We are SO Grateful.

For the folks who work in the broader community on behalf of our congregation to bring nourishment, peace, justice and love to all.

We are SO Grateful.

For our shared ministry – including our professional minister, our pastoral associate, and many other lay folks who contribute to our ministry –

We are SO Grateful.

And for the creation of 

A Place for Community

A Place to respond to the injustices of the world

A place to share our time, talents, and treasure

A place to celebrate who we are!.

A Place to honor life and death.

A Place to simply Love One Another. 

AND a place to GROW Gratitude!

We are SO Grateful

May it Continue to Be So!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Place to Honor Life and Death

A Place to Honor Life and Death
Rev. Jane Page
October 27, 2019

What are we here for? – Here at this place – the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.  So far in this sermon series, we’ve examined the following purposes for our presence:

This is:

A Place for Community

A Place to respond to the injustices of the world

A place to share our time, talents, and treasure

A place to celebrate who we are – with a special focus on gender and sexuality.

And today we are examining how this should be a place to honor life and death.

Every Unitarian Universalist congregation has its own ways of celebrating life and marking life transitions. We share our joys and sorrows, supporting one another through difficulty and success. From birth to death, UU congregations help us live with deeper gratitude, greater connection, and more reverence for life.

We honor and celebrate rites of passage ceremonies, including our baby and child blessing ceremony, and bridging ceremony from youth to adult, wedding ceremonies and of course, memorial services.  Unitarian Universalists have great memorial ceremonies, don’t we?  Now that’s not an encouragement that we have any in the near future – but when our time comes, we all know it will be well-done.  

So, we come here to honor and celebrate life and all of it’s ups and downs and transitions.  But today, as we approach that time of year when many religions and cultures honor the dead, I want to focus more on how we all deal with the subject of death – because that’s a little harder – since none of us have personally been there.  We may have been close – and I know some of you have been on the verge.  And we may have been death – adjacent, in that our very close loved ones have died.  But none of us have been pronounced as dead, I don’t believe.  So, who are we to talk about it?  More specifically – who am I to talk about it?  Well, I’m your minister.  And I think it’s important to explore and think about that one transition that every single one of us will share.  No one is exempt.  We all will die.  

Now it’s not something we necessarily focus on unless we are required to do it.  That occurred to me when I was in seminary at Meadville Lombard.

In one of the first classes I took, I received the assignment to write my obituary.  I considered the alternatives of possible deaths for me.

Jane Page dies in motorcycle accident attempting jump over Beautiful Eagle Creek.  (Actually, I had a motorcycle at that time in my life.) 


Jane Page dies of rare tropical disease after valiant efforts to help save the rainforests.

Or perhaps:

Jane Page shot by angry homophobic white supremacist.

In the end, since I could just “make this up” – I decided to have a long, full life, ministering and serving others in southeast Georgia, enjoying travel, music, and theater – and even teaching dancing late in life at the local Unitarian Universalist church.  I optimistically dated my death in the year 2056 and indicated that I died under hospice care surrounded by friends, family, and my faithful canine companion.  

It was a fascinating assignment to think about the conditions of one’s own death.  And I find it interesting that – given a choice – I would choose what some might consider a run of the mill death – rather than something more glamorous and exciting.  And it’s interesting that I would choose to die gently under hospice care, without all those invasive procedures that tend to keep one alive for no good reason – and with DRUGS please – rather than , perhaps, go out without knowing what hit me.  Which brings me to one of Ric Masten’s poems.

It’s entitled:

“Poor Devil!”

in my early twenties
I went along with Dylan Thomas
boasting that I wanted to go out
not gently but raging
shaking my fist
staring death down

however this daring statement
was somewhat revised
when in my forties I realized
that death does the staring
I do the down

so I began hoping
it would happen to me
like it happened to the sentry
in all those
John Wayne Fort Apache movies
found dead in the morning
face down — an arrow in the back
"Poor devil."
the Sergeant always said
"Never knew what hit him."

at the time I liked that...
the end taking me
completely by surprise
the bravado left in the hands
of a hard drinking Welshman
still wet behind the ears

older and wiser now
over seventy
and with a terminal disease
the only thing right about
what the Sergeant said
was the “Poor devil” part

“Poor devil”
never used an opening
to tell loved ones he loved them
never seized the opportunity
to give praise for the sun rise
or drink in a sunset.--
moment after moment
passing him by
while he marched through his life
staring straight ahead
believing in tomorrow
“Poor devil!”

how much fuller
richer and pleasing life becomes
when you are lucky enough
to see the arrow coming

And, indeed, UU minister and poet Ric Masten did see that arrow with his terminal disease – and he did take those marvelous opportunities.  Well – we don’t have to be pronounced with a terminal disease folks – because the arrow is coming – maybe today – or maybe in 2056 – but it’s coming.  

Rev. Forrest Church, was another UU minister who thought he didn’t have long for this world when he began working on his book – “Love and Death.”  

Now I’ve quoted him and drawn information and inspiration from his writings before in this pulpit.  But I had to struggle a bit before I shared today.  You see, since the “Me Too” phenomenon, many UU women ministers have declared that they will no longer use his materials.  You see, after misconducting in 1990 by having an affair with a member and breaking up two families while a minister at All Souls in New York, his congregation did vote to keep him and he received only a slap on the wrist from UUA and UUMA.  His prestige, charisma, and privilege carried him through.  I don’t believe that would happen today.  But it did and Forrest continued his work and his writing.  He did quit his drinking and his philandering,  and seemed – perhaps – to be a little more humble about it all in the end.  His words continue to inspire me.  Perhaps I see this differently from my fellow women ministers, because I’ve been the wife of a charismatic man who had that same philandering problem and in the 90’s fell in love with his graduate assistant -- ending not only our own marriage, but that of a family with two young children.  Yet, when I run into his former students and they share with me what a difference he made in their lives, I honor that good work with them.  I have forgiven him and I do lift up all those good things that he has done in his life.  We all are flawed.  And Forrest Church was as well.  But he had some good stuff to share and I’m going to use it today. 

The year was 2006 when Forrest began thinking more seriously about his own Death.   

That’s when he was told that he had what appeared to be inoperable esophageal cancer.  “How long do I have?” he asked the doctor.  The doctor’s guess was simply, “months.”  He decided to wait to tell his congregation until he had clearer news – and that clearer news came ten days later when a CT scan indicated that the tumor was operable and appeared to be contained in the esophagus.  During that ten days, though, Forrest welcomed the opportunity to absorb this sudden news and ascertain his own reaction to a subject he’d been preaching about since the beginning of his ministry.  Here are his own words:

Having spent my entire working life preparing for death’s exam, I was curiously eager to sharpen my pencils and prepare for the coming test with a little attendant commotion as possible.  In retrospect, the most staggering thing about my reaction is that I cut straight to acceptance.  I embraced the diagnosis at its grimmest and began girding myself to die.  No disbelief.  No anger. No bargaining.  In fact, if anything, for a day or two I walked about in a pink cloud, feeling my death, getting used to it, finding my sea legs in what turned out to be remarkable gentle waters.  Was my theology working?

Although Forrest was accepting his death sentence, that didn’t mean that he was happy about dying, because he had LOTS of ongoing business that he had wanted to take care of – a book to be completed and plans with his loved ones. He realized that he may not be able to complete those plans.  But his acceptance abided in a deeper place.  He said that he realized that although he had much ongoing business – he felt he had no unfinished business.  He felt that he had made peace with himself, his fellows, and his God.

An older gentleman that I knew when I was active in First Baptist Church had come back to church after a life-threatening illness.  I greeted him and shared how good it was to see him doing well and back at church.  His response was, “I can’t die yet.  I still owe money and I have to pay it back.”  This man was a friend of my dad’s.  And they had the same philosophy when it came to money.  How many times have I heard my dad say: “I don’t want to owe ANYbody ANYthing.”  Forrest Church was also one that wanted his bills paid – but he was not referring to just finances. Although HE had accepted his death, he realized there were others to think about.

 He writes:

Mere acceptance, you see, was too easy, too selfish.  The network of relationships, which binds us, and sometimes enables us, with each other, has its own moral demands that we cannot meet on our own, only together.  So I was confronted with a new batch of unfinished business to take care or.  Much – not all, I’m sure, but much – of that business we, together, were able to attend to.  It was difficult, bracing, humbling, yes, and sobering, but finally healing, a healing that touched from soul to soul.

Oh, like many of you – I’ve witnessed that healing. As many of you know, my dad had Alzheimer’s.  Occasionally in his last days he would worry that he had not done something he needed to do, or paid someone he owed, or taken care of some business.  And sometimes he would even get up and say he needed to go to work to take care of something.  And Mama would assure him that he had already taken care of it…   That everything was done.  That he had taken care of everyone.  And he would relax.  I think my dad was able to let go on September 25, 2006 because he knew everything was okay.  He had done his best.  And my wonderful son Fred spent that last night with him telling him how much he had done for him and how he appreciated all he had taught him –and how he would do his best to live the kind of life my dad would want him to live.  And I smile when I think of my brother making sure that daddy knew that he would take care of mama and me and feed the dog and cut the grass.  And Mama and that last good kiss – you would have thought they were new lovers.  And me singing “Amazing Grace” as he moved his lips to the song.   

Forrest Church connects these activities with salvation.  He says:

Such salvation has three dimensions:  integrity, or individual wholeness, comes when we make peace with ourselves; reconciliation, or shared wholeness, comes when we make peace with our neighbors, especially with our loved ones; redemption, in the largest sense, comes when we make peace with life and death, with being itself, with God.

Now when Forrest Church refers to God, he is not referring to “some puppet master pulling every string above this tiny globe as if the universe turned on how we behave here.”  Instead, his God is the very ground of our being – that which is greater than all and yet present in each. 

Now Forrest was lucky in a way – that he had a diagnosis which prompted him to have the conversations that are so important to have with our loved ones.  We all need to do this – to have some healing – and also to let them know what our wishes are regarding our dying.  Even if we’ve done those Advanced Directives or Living Wills.  By the way – put them so that they can easily be found.  A copy of mine is in an envelope on our refrigerator. 


During the days after his initial diagnosis, Forrest says that his theological mantras kept looping through his brain.  I’m going to share those mantras with you – and I’m not using a PowerPoint – so listen carefully.  I’ll also post this sermon so you can read them later.  Here are those concepts that Forrest Church developed through the years.

Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.

We are more alike in our ignorance than we differ in our knowledge.

God is not God’s name.  God is our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each.

Whether or not there is life after death, surely there is love after death.

The one thing that can never be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we die.

The purpose of life is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for. 

Forrest states that even now – these propositions stand unchallenged at the heart of his faith. Yet – he says – the consolation they offered was intellectual, not emotional.  He said his soul needed something more bracing.  So he turned to a mantra that has guided his life since shortly after 9/11. 

Want what you have.

Do what you can.

Be who you are.

And that’s the primary mantra that I’ve adopted for my life as well. 

Want what you have.  Do what you can.  Be who you are. 

Of course, Forrest unpacks and explains and shares about all of these mantras in his writings.  And perhaps this sermon is more like the trailer for a film – to stimulate you to read his works.  In any case, I do not have time to unpack these in this sermon. 

Instead, I’ll move on to “the rest of the story.”

As it turns out, the surgery in 2006 was a success.  It took about three months of recuperation and some time for Forrest to get his voice back, but he was indeed back – having passed the test and gleaned valuable information in his own passage through the “valley of the shadow of death.” 

He returned to his preaching, his research and his writing – including some exciting books on the early history of our country.    He had been given a new lease on life and a new appreciation for every day that he had

I’m aware that there are those in our congregation who have had similar bouts with cancer or other illnesses and gained that same new lease and appreciation for each day of life.  Although I’ve had no close calls in my adult life – I’m truly blessed that I have been granted the amazing grace to recognize the gift that each day brings.  Perhaps it was because I grew up with whispers of folks marveling that the doctors and good Lord had saved me from what most thought would be a life-ending head injury when I was 3 ½.  In any case, I do not take this gift of life for granted. 

The entire title of Church’s book is:  Love and Death:  My Journey through the Valley of the Shadow.  Of course Forrest is referring to a famous passage from Psalm 23.  This Psalm is attributed to King David – another flawed and complex man, who faced death many times.  Now in his Psalm – David refers to what I might call “Divine Love” as Lord – because that was his perspective of it – and he uses the metaphor of a shepherd – because that’s an activity that he knew well.  The Psalm is often used to help folks relax within that Divine Love (called by many names) and let go.  In my work attending those UUs who have been close to death, I’ve had no requests for this psalm.  But, as I did my chaplaincy fieldwork at Northside Hospital in Altanta, this was the passage that I was called upon to read most often by family members or those lying in the hospital beds.  In the traditional King James language:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil:  for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.

Thou annointest my head with oil.

My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Forrest returned to that valley early in 2008.  And on February 4, 2008 he sent a letter to the members and friends of his church that his cancer had returned with a vengeance and that his time remaining was likely to be numbered in months, not years. 

On receiving the letter, a longtime parishioner, who had known her full share of death, wrote to Forrest of her heartache.  “My heart has been broken again,” Camille wrote, “and for that I am overwhelmingly thankful; without love this would not be possible.”

We will all enter that valley.  Indeed, We ALL have a death sentence.  We’re born with one. And then what?

Here’s how Forrest Church responds to that question:

After death our bodies may be resurrected.  Our souls may transmigrate or become part of the heavenly pleroma.  We may join our loved ones in heaven.  Or we may return the constituent parts of our being to the earth from which it came and rest in eternal peace.  About life after death, no one knows.  But about this we surely know:  there is LOVE after death.  Not only do our finest actions invest life with meaning and purpose, but they also live on after us….  The love that we have given to others is the one thing death can’t kill.

Forrest tells his readers goodbye at the end of his last chapter.  He writes:

I bid you farewell.

Go forth into this fragile, blessed world we share with laughter and tears at the ready.

Love, work, and serve to a fare-thee-well. 

And then, when your own time comes, let go.

Let go for dear life.

May it be so for us all!