Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Theological Rant 2.0: No Mediocrity for the Dying

By way of explanation: I normally encourage people to laugh at themselves (and include myself in that number). Honestly, many of the details of what gets people hot and bothered about the Christian Faith and Catholic Church don't bug me so much. Pope Benedict wants more Gregorian chant? Fine, I like that. I also like some of the Gather hymnal. I'm not too fussed about vernacular vs. Latin. But what gets me riled up is mediocrity. So let's call this an occasional series against mediocrity. First theological rant here.

I posted most of this months ago at Korrektiv, in response to a "surprised by good contemporary liturgy" post by the inestimable "Rufus McCain":

I know what you mean. I don't have as big a beef with contemporary liturgy per se; I was actively involved in it for years and think it is done quite well at my current parish. Perhaps the bigger issue is that, in most parishes, there is the pervading sense that “we just don't care.” Apathy. Ennui. Forgetting that we're participating in a divine liturgy that saved the cosmos; treating it like tea time with a groovy musical backdrop.

I have been thinking about death, in particular, who will be there when I die, who will help me, if anyone. (So help me, I read Kierkegaard my entire undergraduate life.) My husband has recently been a catechist at our church, teaching a mini-course called “What Happens When We Die?” to teens and adults. The course mostly reflected on doctrines and interpretations of heaven, hell, and purgatory, but he did ask a local Christian hospital chaplain in to speak. Apparently she spoke of needing to know your values and spirituality, and if you knew those things, that bode well for a good death. Right. Here I am, stepping into the abyss, but hey, I know my values. I'm hunky-dory now.

That reminded me of a young friend going through Clinical Pastoral Education en route to Episcopal ordination, and her revelation about hospital chaplaincy was that you just listened and repeated back what the patient said. Carl Rogers at the death-bed. Mind you, I think Rogers was a brilliant psychologist, but pure patient-directed counseling as said patient lies ill and in pain seems almost sadistic. “I'm in pain and really scared,” he says. “Really? In pain and scared, you say?” says the 22 year old CPE student. Please. If I were the patient, I'd be tempted to take that last bit of energy and throw my bedpan at said counselor. Then die, choking out the words “Get … a … spine!”

Not that I have any control over this…but when I die, I want someone to remind me about the love of Jesus Christ. I want someone to ask me about repentance and offer reconciliation. I want someone to challenge me that the best is yet to come, that this suffering joins me with Christ, and like his suffering, it is not the last word. God is here and God will be there and has already broken my path for that journey. I want to receive the anointing of the sick, and be reminded that God will raise me up. I don't want someone asking if I'm “in touch with my values.” And especially if I am weak and in pain, I hope the person helping me have a holy, joyful death will not expect me to “take the lead.”

But if that does not happen, God will be there anyway. The Holy Spirit will not leave us unattended. Those thousands of pleas to Mary to pray for us at the hour of our death will not go unheeded.

And this is a little like the lackluster liturgy issue. You expect more, want more, out of this community dedicated to Christ. And it should be more. The liturgy may not be exquisitely rendered, but it should be participated in such a way that one senses joy, or awe. We want the liturgy and all death-bed relationships (are they not similar? are we not all in this death-struggle to give birth, through the Holy Spirit, to a transformed self?) to tell us the truth in love, to hold our hands, to give us some opportunity to thank and praise God for His goodness.

Yet the Holy Spirit works through much less. Maybe especially so, to take Miss Flannery seriously.

I'm not sure what the point of this is, other than perhaps…thank you, God. Have mercy on us, God.


KaleJ said...

I think I can agree with you here IC. Mediocrity or out and out flaunting of one's own mediocrity are very disturbing.

I am a Maccabeen Warrior. Meaning I fight for correct worship. But the older I get and more I experience, the less the little stuff bothers me. After a recent retreat experience I am even somewhat thankful for just plain poor liturgy. Better than the in-your-face jokester attitude I encountered. Mediocre is bad, being flippant about the mediocrity is just plain infuritating

suburbancorrespondent said...

Carl Rogers at the deathbed - that's good, very good. That would be the "I'm OK, You're OK With Death" school of thought, correct?

Meredith Gould said...

Dear Ironic Catholic,
I've just discovered your fabulously fabulous blog. You are fabulous. I know I am being redundant.

(To:suburban correspondent: I'm OK, You're OK was Thomas Harris' contribution to pop psych.)

The Ironic Catholic said...

KaleJ--I like the idea of being a Maccabean warrior...those readings last week sure fired my imagination. I guess I have been blessed in avoiding some horrid liturgical experiences. Yours sounds plenty bad. I'd be tempted to the warpath too.

Suburban--Meredith got it right.

Meredith--so I'm ab fab? Wow. Thanks!

Rufus McCain said...

I'm glad you pulled this out of the archives. That's my favorite comment ever to appear at Korrektiv. And worthy of this new "I want to be a saint, dammit" rant series, the continuation of which I'm looking forward to. You go girl!

The Ironic Catholic said...

Thanks Rufus. I know I did that comment and thought...geez...that's more like a post! What am I doing?!