by K. Carlton Johnson
Faith may be described as a value one believes without proof. Faith is used as a word that symbolizes our belief system or a guide to our moral values. There are many different faiths, but they all are based on transcendent values. Human beings use these values to guide them on their earthly life. We, as human beings, know that we are finite beings. We are born and ultimately die after our journey on earth. For many, Faith is the bridge we cross over to another existence.
It is interesting to note that in many ancient communities, the person was buried with items needed for another life, wherever that was. They saw the corpse, but the personality and vital force were gone. The person’s energy went somewhere, so they sent items for their new life. The graves had pots, hunting equipment, and often signs of the person’s status, perhaps jewelry or a weapon. The Egyptian pharaohs made their life work preparing for their death.
All the major religions address the meaning of death. Faith is the abstract part of us that transcends the reality of time. It is “time” that limits us, but Faith allows us to see a more fruitful and transcendent vision of ourselves in relation to the eternal. Faith gives us a code to help us make choices that enhance our care and that of others.
I have been a Chaplain to the dying for several years, and I have seen people enter that extraordinary place a few days before or months after a person passes away. Faith plays a unique place in a person’s life. I want to share with you some of the ways Faith has been evident in the lives of people I have served.
One observation I have found is that those who have had an association with a faith community have less anxiety and a greater understanding of the world in general. Often as we grow older, elders find that the community they have been members of disappears as they enter a facility. They find themselves in a nursing home, perhaps for medical assistance, or they have issues where they cannot care for themselves. They are often alone with their Faith and many others who come from different backgrounds and beliefs.
One of the most beautiful attributes of people of Faith is they seem at home in who they are. They can see others before themselves, their troubles or needs. I met just such a person when I first started as a Chaplain. She was a minuscule person. Nothing prepared you for what was on the inside of this smallish woman. I learned about her remarkable ability for compassion, grace, and peace.
Every time I would visit her, it was all about my family and me. Why had I come out in the awful weather? How was it going with the Chaplaincy? After our greeting and small talk, she would ask me to read a psalm from her Bible. It was always a privilege. We would sit on the edge of her bed, and I would read, as her eyesight was poor, and unfortunately, many Bibles are such small print. Yet, there flowed such peace from this small event.
I would leave the nursing home asking myself, What makes a saint? Was holiness really love of God and did this help one embrace the world one lived in? The last time I saw her, she was in a wheelchair in a long nursing home corridor. We did not speak. I bent down to kiss her hands, and she nestled in my
arms, and we hugged for a moment.
We both knew she was going home. Death claimed her a few days later, but her soul, ladened with Faith and love, radiates as bright as the sun. I feel confident that this great soul went to her eternal reward in the arms of angels. I think of her often when I visit my patients.
Faith can make us impervious to “Time.” Faith can transcend the earth we know and make us, no matter how poor, sick, or aged, a light to our earthly path.
I have found one of the indicators of Faith in my Hospice patients: Joy. In our current society, we have come to rely on Facts, perhaps because we consider ourselves people of Science. Science is built on facts, provable facts; Facts put us in control, arranging predictability. We can measure and quantify almost everything today. However, Faith operates on a different set of values. Belief is something that cannot be proved; Faith is a condition of trust. Trust is a willful selection of an abstract idea. Faith is based on trust, and it has no graphs, or pie-charts, or facts that prove it. It is a willful acceptance of a different kind of Truth.
We who are Christians believe and trust in God. Can we prove this by our Faith? Yes, by our actions. By living a life that reflects our trust in the promise of God’s love. By believing God created us and that our humanity is given this spark of life called a soul.
A famous scientist-priest, Pierre Chardin, noted that we are spiritual beings having an earthly experience. Yet many view themselves as earthly beings trying to have a spiritual experience. The difference is that we are born with a soul. We forget that the spiritual side of us is the master controller of our human self. That is, we can make choices. The Ancient Greeks taught long ago that the human person was made up of three things: body, mind, and spirit. We can think and use reason to choose the proper action. In other words, we can determine what path we take. Faith helps guide us in that choice.
I will give you an example of one of my patients. He was in the last stages of stomach cancer. The first time I saw him, I walked into his room, and there in the bed was a large man with skin stretched over his bones. He had a plastic tube in his nose that drained into a plastic bag next to his hospital bed. After assessing the painful situation, I was filled with a dark sadness.
But as I stood there, the person lifted his head off the pillow and insisted on greeting me. He lit up when he saw I was a chaplain. I wear a lanyard that announces my name and clergy in black type. “You have come to pray with me.” I was taken aback by the cheerful attitude of this tragedy I saw before me. He proceeded to ask me to pray the Lord’s Prayer with him. Never mentioning the apparent suffering, he was enduring.
Joy mysteriously lit the room into another dimension. The two of us raised our communal voices in prayer amidst such awful circumstances. I did not want to leave the celebration of life I was experiencing in this simple room. It was overwhelming. He thanked me many times for coming and for praying with him and for him. All I had brought was my person and Faith in God’s merciful love.
Despite his intense suffering, my patient trusted God and, like Job of the Bible, never allowed his circumstances to take his Faith and trust away. Unfortunately, he died a week later. Yet, he continues, in my memory, of the Joy we shared. Joy is always a mark of God’s presence in our lives. This Joy is not mere happiness or being cheerful. It is that transcendent value of jubilation. It is that place of unity and delight in a God that loves us and never leaves us.