Love and Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow.

I heard this excellent interview on NPR on Tuesday with Unitarian minister Forrest Church Author of the book "Love and Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow."



Who just finally lost his 3 year long battle with cancer last week, but not before beautifully chronicling his very human and profound "Journey through the Valley of the Shadow"

Some parts of the interview that really resonated with me,

GROSS: I want to start by reading something that you say in your book that that really got to me, and this is right after you were - your thoughts about your life, and you thought imminent death, right after your first diagnosis. You write: I embraced the diagnosis and started girding myself to die. No disbelief, no anger, no bargaining. In fact, if anything, I walked around in a pink cloud for a day or two, feeling my death, getting used to it. Was my theology working, or was I simply in denial or shock? Looking back, was your theology working or were you in denial or shock?

CHURCH: It was working. Every minister spends a lifetime preparing for this exam. The most important work we do is done with families in bereavement. But we really don't know, having given all of this advice and held all of these hands and walked all of these journeys through the valley, how we ourselves are going to respond. And it was a great relief to me that I was able to embrace my death. I sensed that if you've made peace with your life, you can make peace with your death. But if you haven't, it's much more difficult.

The difference - all of us have ongoing business when we're given a terminal diagnosis. But the question is, do we have unfinished business? And I discovered I really didn't have any unfinished business, and that allowed me to be present for whatever was going to come. I didn't have to find myself bathing in regret or filled with anxious anticipation. I just sort of entered the zone, and I've been there for sometime.

GROSS: Okay. So, on the one hand, you feel like you reached acceptance of your death right after your diagnosis, and you kind of entered the zone.

Rev. CHURCH: Yeah.

GROSS: But at the same time, you write in your book, your wife, who…

Rev. CHURCH: Right.

GROSS: …who was on the way to a trip to India when you were diagnosed, when she came home, she kind of knocked you out of that and said…

Rev. CHURCH: That's right. Well…

GROSS: Don't be so accepting of this.

Rev. CHURCH: She pointed out to me in no uncertain terms that this death was not mine alone. It was fine for me to splash around in the waters of acceptance and to say that I had no unfinished business, but there are lot of other people around me who had unfinished business, I mean, my children, my four children, my wife. And that shifted my - it sort of knocked the air out of my presumption and allowed me to focus on their needs and concerns, as opposed to sort of taking too great a pleasure in my own spiritual satisfaction.

GROSS: You know, you write in your book, you know, again, about how you don't believe in an interventionist God, and you say, once you start praying to God to cure your cancer or asking God why he didn't answer you prayers, the questions never stop. And then you refer to, like, a bishop who said his faith was shaken by the tsunami.

Rev. CHURCH: Yes.

GROSS: And then you say, you don't like it when people say about a tragedy or about, you know, an illness or death, well, God has his reasons. It's just part of God's plan.

Rev. CHURCH: This is God's plan.

GROSS: What do you object to about that? Why isn't that the…

Rev. CHURCH: Well, I can see how it can give comfort. But God doesn't throw a three-year-old child out of a third story window or allow a drunken driver to kill a family crossing the street. This is not part of God's plan. These are the accidents of life and death. And if God, for instance, is responsible for a tsunami that obliterates the lives of a hundred thousand people and leaves their families in tatters, then God's a bastard.

I cannot believe in such a God. For me, God is the life force, that which is greater than all and yet present in each. But God is not micromanaging this world, that that is a presumption that we are naturally drawn to because of our sense of centrality and self-importance, but there are 1,500 stars for every living human being. And the God that I believe in is an absolute, magnificent mystery."

I love Church's courage as a minister, in saying to a National Audience, "God's a bastard! (if we believe He obliterates thousands of people via natural disasters) " and then goes on to explain what god really is to him, the life force, the essence of life, the tao, which generates, nurtures, regenerates, affirms and ends life in one continuous, never ending dynamic, cyclical, beautiful, magnificent mysterious whole.

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The reason I can really relate to this is because I've been in that exact same shadow of the valley of death, which I chronicled here and I know others have too, like Carl Reese, which he chronicled here.

I'll always remember that serene moment of peace and acceptance of my impending death. There was this complete absence of fear. I had no unfinished business. I was perfectly at peace with dying. Then my thoughts turned to my children and my wife, twin sister, nieces and nephews, my parents, all crying on the shore and it was then and there that I decided this is not the day I am going to die and I started swimming for shore like a mad man. It was love that prevented me from succumbing to the cold, dark, careless abyss.

Having survived that journey just makes you appreciate being alive all the more, every sweet embrace, every ray of sunshine, every breath, every heart beat seems like a gift after coming that close to death, but when it comes, I know how I'll feel, no fear, no guile, no regrets, no pain can detract from those sweet embraces, rays of sunshine, breaths of fresh air and millions of heart beats.
Thanks for sharing this. I too have lost my fear of death for the most part. I like Church's view of God, which closely matches my own.


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