A holy death-bed

by
17 June 2016

David Bryant on the strengthening of hope

Hope and Grace: Spiritual experiences in severe distress, illness and dying
Monika Renz

Jessica Kingsley Publishers £14.99
(978-1-78592-030-1)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

DR MONIKA RENZ opens her book with the question “Where is God in suffering?” Her conclusions, drawn from many terminally ill patients, are surprising. She finds that an awareness of the spiritual in the dying is strengthened and clarified in ways that pass beyond what one would expect.

She concludes that illness can re­­solve itself into a period of reli­gious transcendence and spiritual blos­som­ing in the sick. This experi­ence she describes with two con­cepts: grace and hope.

Grace, for her, is another word for the divine, and hope she sees as the process of “hopping”, or taking leaps of faith that push us beyond the barriers imposed by suffering into a new quality of existence.

These religious encounters break down into several categories. Some patients have a feeling of being sur­rounded by angels and an atmos­phere that has become sacred. An­­other group experience a har­moni­ous feeling of fellowship with others and a closeness to God, The Other.

Many see suffering as a time when God is found at the heart of life and experience. This relation­ship with God is not absolute. Renz explains it in terms of a loose elec­trical connection that gets through only sporadically. Nor is hope clear-cut. It is constantly changing and developing. It may appear as free­dom, dignity, identity, or love. Run­ning through the text is a strand that reveals how music can enhance or introduce a spiritual awareness among patients.

There is great value for the patient in these theological musings from this music therapist, psycho­therapist, and spiritual counsellor. They have the power to lift us be-
yond fear and pain. Renz unravels this mode of thinking. It can assist carers and medical staff, because it facilitates the work of injecting new hope and comfort into the milieu of the dying.

This book is not always an easy read, owing to its academic approach to dying. But it has a posi­tive spin. It shows that dying and the proximity of death can flow into a close relationship with God and his holy angels. That said, it could perhaps benefit from having fewer patient-related case studies and more analytic material from Renz.

 

This is the last review written by the Revd David Bryant for the Church Times before his death.

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