Sacred Dying: a journal review

Once upon a time, Christians had a good deal to say about dying well. Saints of old (e.g. Augustine, Polycarp, Thomas More, Thomas Aquinas, etc.) had a good deal to about death, as did Anglican Divine, Jeremy Taylor, in his classic, Holy Dying. But our age is an era characterized more by the denial of death than any thoughtful preparation for it. We spend our days distracting ourselves from our own mortality. I’m now past forty, and statistically as close to death as I am to my birth, but I still think of myself as on my journey to self-actualization, not on my way to the grave. I’m more likely to contemplate the death of a character on my current Netflix binge-watch then I am to prepare for my own demise.

Sacred-Dying-JournalMegory Anderson, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the Sacred Dying Foundation in San Francisco. She is a theologian, scholar in comparative religion, an author and educator. She has created the Sacred Dying Journal: Reflections on Embracing the End of Life, a journal that includes inspirational quotes, and question prompts, designed to help us reflect on aging, sickness, time, our legacy, and making arrangements to be laid to rest (e.g. our funeral and burial plans).   

The book is divided into four sections: Caring for the Body and the Soul, Sacred Dying in Time and Space, Legacies, and Honoring the Body/Commending the Soul. Because this is a journal and not a book. Anderson doesn’t prescribe a particular response from us. Instead, her questions, probe and are designed to help us clarify our own beliefs about life, death, the afterlife, and what we leave behind.

As such, this journal (or workbook) is appropriate for anyone, regardless of religious tradition or stage of life. We are all going to die. I appreciated looking through this and reflecting on where I want my life to end up.  Nevertheless, those who more readily sense death within his bending sickle compass come, either from age or because of some terminal diagnosis, will find this journal a helpful resource for preparing for death.  I give this four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

The Sour-Faced Evangelists of Lent?

It is Ash Wednesday. Today many us will attend a service to receive the imposition of ashes–a dark smudge across our foreheads. This is just the first thing imposed on us in Lent, a season of self-imposed discipline. We give up chocolate, meat, coffee, alcohol, smoking–or anything that makes us happy.  Jesus suffered in the wilderness and on his long, winding road to Calvary. The Church has deemed that appropriately, we should suffer too. We wander through today our faces marked with soot and scowls. Fasting makes us hangry. Our head throbs from caffeine withdrawal. We snap at others because all our go-to-coping mechanisms are declared off limits.

Is this what Lent is about? Here are excerpts for the top three Google hits answering the question, “What is Lent?”:

What is Lent? Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. (from -Lent 101)

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. (from “What is Lent and Why does it Last Forty Days?”)

Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies. It’s six weeks of self-discipline. ( from – “What is the meaning of Lent?)

These definitions augment one another. Lent is a season of self-denial leading up Easter for the purpose of our growing close to God.  Lent is one of the two great preparatory seasons of the church. But whereas Advent is full of announcement of the in-breaking of the Kingdom, Lent reminds us that on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem  suffering and death await.

I am guided by the conviction that Christianity is Good News.  Christians are God’s Good News People.  We believe that this good news culminates at Calvary where Jesus set us free from sin, death and spiritual oppression. This isn’t just a season of self-imposed suffering, self denial and sour-faces. Here we mark Christ’s confrontation and ultimate victory over the Powers.

So we can take up our cross and follow Jesus because this isn’t just a death march. Jesus wins and on his way to be crucified, he exposes the lies that propped up the political and religious hegemony of his day. Jesus died for us so that we would die to ourselves and rise again with our life in him.  We participate in Lent because we know despite the hard road Jesus walked, the brokenness and violence he suffered, he would bring wholeness and shalom to all who trust in him.

Give up coffee. Give up meat. Give up pleasure and lay aside vice. But don’t do it with a sour face. Don’t do it with the shallow hope of becoming a better you. Do so in the strong confidence that Jesus suffered every shame, every pain, every hurt at Calvary because he had something better for you–abundant life, peace with God, reconciliation and justice for all. Fasting is an appropriate response both to prepare and to mark the sacred moment of what Jesus may be doing in you. He didn’t avoid pain, we shouldn’t either. But in the midst of sorrow we have joy because our salvation awaits.

Jesus is on the road, his face like a flint toward Jerusalem. Whatever holds you in bondage Christ has come to set you free. This is good news.


Death by Living: a book review

Cue that scene from Braveheart where Mel Gibson says, “Every man dies, not every man truly lives.” N.D. Wilson’s new memoir/vacation-journal-family history will encourage you to live life to the full, and drink down the dregs. Wilson is apparently an award winning novelist of Christian Juvenile  fiction or something. Death By Living, is his second book of non-fiction, following up on the 2009 Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. But it was not what I was expecting. The title invoked the idea of living mindfully of one’s own mortality (sort of the Jeremy Taylor Holy Living, Holy Dying idea). That is certainly part of it. However Wilson also connects his own story, with his family story and the Biblical story.  He observes that his own life is made possible by the survival of his progenitors.  Four chapters look back at the generations of his family, especially his grandparents’ stories.   Four “City: Hiatus” chapters explore  life and death through the window of a particular place (i.e. London, Rome, Jerusalem, Home).  The remaining eight chapters form a meandering meditation which turns over the idea of ‘a life well lived’ from various angles. Job and Jesus, Adam and Moses walk with Wilson on this long and windy road.

So is it any good?  Wilson is a good writer and turns a good phrase. Eric Metaxas’s endorsement on the back cover says that Wilson reminds him of a young Chesterton.  By saying this Metaxas is breaking with the tradition of comparing any evangelical author with intelligence and/or imagination with C.S. Lewis; however the comparison with Chesterton seems more apt. Chesterton was a very good author (brilliant in fact), but he was also an uneven author.  Parts of this book I find very good and thought provoking, other parts I found myself more irritable than inspired. I would happily give this book 3.5-4 stars, but I do not think it will have the longevity of Chesterton’s most brilliant works.

That might not be fair, and certainly sounds more dismissive than I mean. I enjoyed this book and liked the shifting locations and the way Wilson cycled around the idea of living and dying (and even seeing death as a grace).  I think it was well written and interesting. If you like books and want a book that is thoughtful. but not overly demanding, than I think this is a good choice.  But I never felt like Wilson captured my full attention. I read sections with interest and wondered if I would remember anything this book said in a year or two. I had the same feeling when I read Mike Mason’s The Mystery of Marriage, and truly can’t tell you anything Mason said, other than the section where he contemplates his wife’s skull.  This book may have a similarly memorable moment when Wilson stands in Gehenna and the ‘field of blood’ where Judas presumably hung himself.

But if I do remember anything: I will appreciate Wilson’s ability to connect his own story with the larger story of those who have gone before, that life is a gift to be fully enjoyed and stories are worth hearing, reading and passing on.

I recieved this book from Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review. I was not asked  write a positive review

The Thirteenth Station

Jeus is Taken Down from the Cross

I rush in my mind to Resurrection.

This moment is uncomfortable

You are dead and

all that love you are stricken with grief.

Your mother mourns.

Your disciples wander disillusioned.

There is no hope and little


But your sacrifice was finished

and in some profound sense,

we were set free–

our debts paid

in full.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

The Twelfth Station

Jesus Dies on the Cross

Darkness descends

and it seems as though

death has spoken in her finality.


You died.

Hung there between two thieves,

but all alone.


God in flesh, alone.

God in flesh forsaken.

God in flesh dead.


But with your final breath, you commended your spirit to the Father.


We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.


The Eleventh Station

Jesus is Nailed to the Cross by Jonathan Irwin (2011)

Betrayed, broken, beaten, condemned.

You suffered every indignity

and then they stretched out your arms and legs

and nailed you to a cross.


Did you scream in anguish as the soliders drove the nails?

Did You know that God’s plan of redemption would hurt so much?

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

The Tenth Station

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

The took your clothes and divided them.

You were left naked.

All dignity was taken from you.

You would die naked on a cross.

You knew fully our shame.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.