The naturalist, John Burroughs, wrote this:
The laws of life and death are as they should be. The laws of matter and force are as they should be; and if death ends my consciousness, still is death good. I have had life on those terms, and somewhere, somehow, the course of nature is justified.
I shall not be imprisoned in some grave where you are to bury my remains. I shall be diffused in great nature: in the soil, in the air, in the water and sunshine, and in the hearts of those who have loved me, in all the living and flowing currents of the world, though I may never again in my entirety be embodied in a single human being. My elements and my forces go back into the original sources out of which they came, and these sources are perennial in this vast, wonderful and divine cosmos.
It takes two hands to live in this world. Remember Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof? “On the one hand…but on the other hand!”
Life requires us to hold on, on the one hand; and on the other hand life requires us to let go. This holding on and letting go defines everything about life. Something deep in us urges us to live, in spite of pain, loss, discouragement, uncertainty, and so forth.
And there is something in us that allows useven urges us to let go when the time comes.
We are, after all, part of the natural orderthat part of nature that has become aware of itself.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago humans began to ritualize the dead, interring implements of living in their graves. Anthropologists suggest that this was the beginning of religion in the world. If they put tools, and food and so forth in the grave, they must have had some sense of an ongoing life, beyond the grave.
There are not many folks in our culture who believe that the dead need to be supplied with materials for the next world, the next life. But there is a wide variety of notions and ideas about life after death. Indeed, much of that variety is fairly well represented in this room today.
A faith system that does not include the question of death, the issue of our mortality, is not sustaining.
While we make no particular theological pronouncements about that big question, we do assert that the idea of hellof a God-created punishment in some firey furnace is not only nonsense, it’s bad theology.
Traditional ideas of heavenas a continued personal existence beyond the gravemay be a comforting idea, but it, too, is limiting. The truth, as I see it, is that we do not know anything about what happens in the so-called afterlife; we have all we can do to deal with questions about living this life well.
Most of us take a naturalistic stand as expressed poetically by John Burroughs.
We also affirm an individual’s right to choose; the right to choice about one’s bodyone’s sexual orientation and reproductive choices.
We also affirm the individual’s right to end-of-life issues, including the right to die.
Most of us can imagine reaching a point beyond which we no longer wish to live. What we do not know is what new strength, what new resource or reserve we didn’t know we had will kick in and keep us going.
I’m here to affirm that deep reservoir of inner strength, just as we are here together to build up that reservoir.
It takes two hands to live this life, and sometimes it takes three people to present a sermon. We’re very privileged this morning to have Faye Girsh, Executive VP of the Hemlock Society. Faye served as President of Hemlock for some years. She is a psychologist, with a doctorate from Harvard.
From e e cummings:
dying is fine)but Death
Death if Death
when(instead of stopping to think)you
begin to feel of it,dying
cause dying is
it mildly lively(but
& artificial &
evil & legal)
we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us.o life!the sin of Death
Reading: from Mary Oliver
To live in this world
You must be able
To do three things:
To love what is mortal;
To hold it against your bones knowing
Your own life depends on it;
And, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Reading: Frank Doan
The death of the body, is it not in the natural order of things? Behold the flowers of the field, they bloom for a brief season, then wither away. The birds of the air, they ascend for their last flight, then descend to fold their wings and find peace in their nest, even the peace of death.
So it is with the beasts of the forest. When their time is come, they seek out some quiet, secluded spot, make their last lair and lay them down there to die; unafraid, they, and unashamed. Yea, the very stars in their courses, though they glow for centuries and centuries, lose their radiance at last; they grow cold and crumble away into cosmic ashes.
What is man that he should think to escape this common destiny of all earthy things, or to resent this final blow of faith called death?