With C.S. Lewis (among many others in the Christian tradition), I believe that eternal life is life lived in the presence of the Triune God. That life begins with our conversion and baptism. It deepens as we journey ever more deeply into God and share in the life of God and — in the life to come — that journey takes on new dimension and depth.
I also believe that there is a measure of continuity between our journey into God in this life and the next. That is why the choices that we make in this life have consequences. One day our journeys will be without pain or grief, without the power of sin, or the sense of distance that we often experience in this life. But our journeys will not begin in the same place. We will learn, grow, and flourish at a pace that is unique to our individual journeys.
Understood that way, to pray for the dying and the dead is to pray for people who continue to need God and can flourish in God’s presence.
But for the same reason, I think it is also important to pray for our own deaths. Not to pray for their coming — Christians rejoice in life and should. It is the good gift of God. Instead, what I mean is that we should pray in ways that not only address the shape of God’s work in our lives, but that embraces our dying – affirming God’s enduring goodness and care.
Spiritually, those prayers invite God’s participation in the whole of our lives. They invite us to be attentive to God in all of life’s beginnings and endings. And they also help us to prepare for our own deaths. In a culture that is deeply invested in denying the reality of death, such prayers reinvigorate the ancient practice of spiritual preparation that was once one of the spiritual practices of the church, known as momento mori, or “remember that you will die.”
Exactly what those prayers might include, only you can answer. Mine, today, is this:
Precious Jesus, I rise this day in full possession of my mind and body, aware of your love, dependent upon your grace, blessed beyond telling – with the love of my wife, the companionship of our children, the gift of our grandchildren, the joys of work, shelter from the cold, and the incomparable blessing of your calling upon my life.
There will come a day when my strength will fade, when my mind will lose its clarity, when my sense of connection with the world around me will weaken, when breathing will be difficult, and I may struggle to feel your presence. That day, that hour, may come suddenly, without my being aware of it. It may spread over hours, days, weeks, months or years.
When that time comes I will not become less dependent upon you, but I will find it harder to walk alongside of you. Take my arm. Let me feel your embrace. Reassure me in your strength and carry me to that place that you have promised: Where light perpetual shines, where everything that matters is restored, where what is trivial and distracting is laid to rest, and where – with you and those I love and have lost – we find ourselves embraced by your perfect love.
Together with those known and unknown to us, with those we have wronged or neglected, with those who have gone before us, and those who follow us, lead us into that world that you have promised will be governed by perfect mercy, love, truth and justice. Let this be my prayer now and in the day of my dying. Receive me, I pray, a child of your choosing, a sinner of your forgiving, one made in your image, and dependent upon your grace. To you, to the Father, to the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever.