Making the last great journey

by
16 October 2015

David Bryant finds a hospice chaplain’s reflections supportive

© joe drivas/getty images

Evocative: this photo of footprints in sand by Joe Drivas is one of the Getty images used in Strength for the Journey, edited by Helen J. Bate and Michelle Forster, a book in a series to help people in the middle to later stages of dementia. Large pictures have been chosen to evoke memories, accompanied by simple, large-print text. The themes here are all to do with the spiritual side of life, from thankfulness and love to the Lord’s Prayer, “the old rugged cross”, and the breaking of bread (Pictures to Share, £20; 978-0-9563818-8-0). A 48-page carers’ book, Too Late to Learn to Drive: Dementia, visual perception and the meaning of pictures, by Helen J. Bate, is also available free of charge (but send £3 p&p) from www.picturestoshare.co.uk, which offers discounts for the full series

Evocative: this photo of footprints in sand by Joe Drivas is one of the Getty images used in Strength for the Journey, edited by Helen J. Bate and Michelle Forster, a book in a series to help people in the middle to later stages of dementia. Large pictures have been chosen to evoke memories, accompanied by simple, large-print text. The themes here are all to do with the spiritual side of life, from thankfulness and love to the Lord’s Prayer, “the old rugged cross”, and the breaking of bread (Pictures to Share, £20; 978-0-9563818-8-0). A 48-page carers’ book, Too Late to Learn to Drive: Dementia, visual perception and the meaning of pictures, by Helen J. Bate, is also available free of charge (but send £3 p&p) from www.picturestoshare.co.uk, which offers discounts for the full series

Voices from the Hospice: Staying with life through suffering and waiting
Bob Whorton
SCM Press £16.99
(978-0-334-05426-9)
CT Bookshop special price £14.45

 

BOB WHARTON has written this book from nine years of experience as a hospice chaplain. He views life as a train journey in which the stations represent the different stages that we pass through on the way to death.

The voyage unfolds like a tapestry, interweaving his own insights in with those of the hospice patients and their friends and families. These reflections are interspersed with comments on extracts from the Psalms which often duplicate the worries and concerns of the dying and their carers. His pastoral sensitivity and compassion shine out from the pages of the book. He shows with great perspicacity that the experiences of pain, fear, and drug-taking are not all loss, but are stages on life’s path which can bring us close to God.

He sees approaching death as a space where something new can grow, a dimension of life through which we can mature spiritually. This throws a new and imaginative light on time spent in the hospice, turning it into a pilgrimage. There is a lucidity and gentleness in his writing. This book will be helpful to priests and lay people visiting the terminally ill, and will bring consolation and fresh hope to those embarking on the last great journey.

Whorton is not afraid to confront atheism, and he puts forward an existentialist view of life which is refreshing and relevant. He speaks of the dark night of the soul, and with great openness shows how it is often necessary for our old images of God to die before we can find him in his fullness. This is a courageous theology to put forward. I guess that many readers will thank him for it and find their own spiritual lives renewed.

The whole thrust of the book is positive. Time and again, the author sees loss, anger, and failure as a seedbed from which new life can spring. Ultimately, peace comes when we “let go” and allow God to begin his work of restoration and to bring about peace and wholeness.

I particularly liked chapter nine, “The Breaking of God”. We have to be prepared to “stare into the darkness of a random world in which we have to create our own meaning”. Only when we break our old images of God can we discover him afresh. What we discover is overwhelming love.

Whorton not only shows us how to find “the courage to be” when facing death: he recreates a vision of God as co-suffering and compassionate. Facing terminal cancer, I found this book to be full of comfort, hope, prayerfulness, and a profound love of God. Thank you, Bob Whorton.

 

The Revd David Bryant is a retired priest living in Yorkshire.

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