Facing death: ‘Our futures are built on past lessons'

Facing death: ‘Our futures are built on past lessons'

For 55 years of marriage and shared ministry, my wife, Skip, and I have struggled with making sense out of our faith and its application to personal and societal problems. Always active in choirs, creator of beautiful flower arrangements, prize winning ceramic artist, moderator of the Northern California Conference, homemaker with an open door for persons with special needs, Skip was also a social activist: for farm workers, in Mississippi voter registration and against the Vietnam war.

Her original breast cancer of 1989 metastacized in 2000. Today she is in hospice care and those people are wonderful. From now on it is hospice's philosophy (quoting Isaiah): "Comfort ye, Comfort ye, my people, says my God." For how long? God only knows. No physical pain is a blessing. I read to her. Skip enjoys my interpretations of the Psalms, including this one based on Psalm 90.

Great Spirit, since time immemorial you have been our very Mountain of Rock. You chip us off one by one.

Since the beginning of time—way back there when—before mountains and glaciers, even before asteroids, back in the black holes of creation, your Spirit broods and floods in eternity.

Death comes to us and back to the elements our bodies go.

But our imaginations stretch, our spirits soar—and to you, an hour, a day, a year, or a thousand years—each is but a snap of the fingers.

What happens to us occurs to all people. We disappear as with a flood, or, like seeds, one day we grow and flourish; at day's end, we are dried up and blown away.

The circumstances of our lives claim us, and we become swallowed up in the personal game of truth and consequences.

Truth must out, so we set before your light the statement of our condition as honestly as we know it, willing to accept the consequences, however long our days may be, numbered short or long, filled with trouble and misery.

Teach us to take it easy, one day at a time, so as to grow in humility, the pathway to your spirit. And when the going gets tough, we pray for the presence of the Holy to sustain us.

We wake up in the morning to a new day, rejuvenated by your love in us, surrounded by songs that pour forth from happy hearts.

Our futures are built on lessons from the past; we will not give up.

So thanks fill our hearts for the gift of yourself, the Giver of blessings that fulfill our lives. Yours is the glory in our midst, which we discover in the works of your hands.

The Rev. Louis Riley and his wife, Eleanor "Skip" Riley, served parishes in Sacramento, Palo Alto and San Rafael, Calif., before retiring to Pilgrim Place in Claremont, Calif.

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