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.

Open Heart Surgery to Open Heart Life: a book review

Struck is Russ Ramsey’s story of his brush with death. He was struck with a bacterial infection which destroyed his mitral valve, the heart valve which prevents backflow in the left ventricle of the heart. He required open-heart surgery and gained a new perspective through his struggle with sickness, depression, chemical addiction to painkillers, a brush with death and his recovery.  As a father of four, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville and author he reflects on how his brush with mortality affected his family and his faith.

4494Ramsey’s story unfolds in four acts. Part one describes the affliction, his diagnosis, operation and first month of treatment. Part two, Recovery, explores month 2-5, the early days of recovery, depression, and rehabilitation. Part three, Lament (months 6-22) describes Ramsey’s movement back into the ministry of soul care, with fresh insights and empathy from his own struggle. Part 4, Doxology,  shows death and suffering swallowed up in hope and praise, as Ramsey looks ahead to life and resurrection. An afterward, written by Lisa Ramsey, Russ Ramsey’s wife, tells of her journey as she stood by her husband in sickness, diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. There are ways in which her afterward is my favorite part of the book because she refuses to make a ‘life lesson’ out of her husband’s infirmity. She marks the time as significant and is grateful for the ways God sustained them. It is enough.

I love memoirs because they open up the reality of another’s experience. I appreciate Ramsey’s sometimes raw honesty and the way his diagnosis enabled him to forge deep friendships with and offer hope to co-strugglers (like Barbara, a woman he and his wife knew dying of cancer). There is no sentimentality here. There is pain, grief, depression, loss and sadness. There is also an enduring faith. Ramsey opens up about the depths of his experience. He underwent open heart surgery and learned to live open-heartedly.  I give this book four stars.

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