Some spiritual leaders call the spiritual practice of dying “Dying Well.” (LINK) This is no easy task – amidst the pain and anxiety of all that happens as we become aware that we are indeed dying, it is not easy to intentionally transform such a difficult time into an opportunity for a spiritual practice.
And yet… Practitioners of Buddhist meditation spend a good deal of time practising for a “good death.” The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a compilation of theological reflections and practices which complement their own theology of death. Not much is of great use to us from the Christian tradition in this classic because of the peculiarities of their theology, except perhaps the call to see our dying and our death as the opportunity for a spiritual practice.
The first two sections offered here represent, the one a theoretical reflection on what intentional spiritual practices around dying might be, and the other the reflections of a founder of a hospice centre from a more pragmatic point of view.
The first document by Henri Nouwen makes a strong case for particular practices: the practice of developing the trust of a child with respect to God’s promise of love; the practice of considering our death in solidarity with the deaths of other human beings; and the practice of dying our death with a view to our “fruitfulness” for those we leave behind.
The second document, by Paul Chidwick, and Anglican priest, founder of Hospice Windsor, focusses more on the care we can provide our loved ones who are dying. He addresses some of the issues Nouwen does, but adds a great deal on how to respond to theological questions the dying may be asking. Like Nouwen, Chidwick stresses the on-going responsibilities the dying can have that can help preserve their sense of dignity and their participation in this world. Key theological notions include the nature of God, some reflection of God and suffering, what we might be able to say about some form of “life after life.”
It is clear that having a sense of what might be beyond our death helps greatly in the dying process. Liberal Christians today are at a significant disadvantage in that most have rejected traditional beliefs in heaven and hell and have not been able to replace these with anything convincing that could guide them through the dying process. It has been shown that people with some form of conviction about continuation after death are better able to cope with the process. We have provided a few different progressive “speculative theologies” on the subject, in order to at least broach the subject.