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Praying through dying

From: blogs.villagevoice.com

Perhaps one of the most important moments of our life is the moment we die. Would it be helpful, depending on our physical and mental condition, to prayerful at that moment? Would it matter (as we take our leave of matter) what we pray about at that moment? If we aren’t in a condition to pray at that moment, would it matter what others praying for us are praying about? My friend’s terminal illness has motivated me to ponder this some more.

 I am quite confident that there is a different life beyond this life. Like most other folks, I don’t know what happens when we die but I’m an engineer and like to know how things work and can’t help researching. I know I’m not alone in this. Even Bishop John Shelby Spong in his book, Eternal Life, A New Vision, expressed his frustration: “The only language I have to use in this book is the language of time and space. The subject I am seeking to address, however, is not bound by time and space.”

In previous posts I mentioned my interest in Qi Gong, Reiki and Shamanism. This has led me to investigate the relationship between these healing arts and the scientific domain of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is quite different from the classic Newtonian stuff I was taught in school. I won’t go into detail but it offers some insight into things that are difficult to explain in conventional ways.

My Wife and My Mother-in-law,from: wikipedia.org

One of ideas in quantum mechanics is the relationship between the observer and the observed. The observer has an impact on what is observed. This image demonstrates how we impact what is observed. By simply changing your perspective, the image changes from the young woman to the old woman.

Another interesting thing about quantum mechanics is non-locality. Something in one place can effect something in another place without passing any physical signal in between.

And apparently, at the atomic level, when an electron moves from one orbit to another, it is never in between. It disappears from one orbit and reappears in the other. (I wish I could do that when driving home at rush hour!)

What does this have to do with prayer, healing and dying? Well, I’m wondering if my mind is in a somewhat different space than my brain and body (just ask my wife, she’ll confirm that often it’s somewhere else ;-)). When I pray for someone or do Reiki for them, my mind is non-local to them even if they are in the same room — but they could be thousands of miles away. It seems the distance makes no difference. Research has demonstrated the positive impact of healing prayer by people at a distance.

If my mind is the observer in this and my body is part of what is observed, perhaps what’s happening in my mind will impact my body. This is how I think the Qi Gong I practice for my own well-being works.

So where is the soul or spirit in this? In the existence beyond this life, my soul or spirit is what I figure will be hanging out there. Perhaps my mind that’s doing this praying, and creating this post, can impact my soul. Based on my reading so far, a key time for that is at the moment of death. I was thinking that Jesus last words might be an example of this. Luke 23:46 quotes Jesus as saying “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. That seems to me to be a much more impactful prayer to have in mind at that moment than something like “Geez, my body hurts”.

Other traditions include a death prayer or meditation for the person dying to pray. This is different from having clergy present saying the prayers. Apparently Gandhi had one and said “Ram”, a name for God, at the time he was assassinated.

My study indicates it’s better to have someone else praying if one can’t – than no prayer at all. I have not been present with a dying person while Anglican clergy were present so I must admit I don’t know what our tradition offers here.

So a question for ordained readers of this post — what do you pray or suggest the dying person to pray?

I have been present for the deaths of both my parents and for the time when our old dog Kes was put to sleep by our vet. These were all powerful and very different experiences for me – perhaps the subject of another post.

If you are interested in reading more on quantum mechanics relating to this subject, here are a couple of books I’ve read so far:

Physics of the Soul: The Quantum Book of Living, Dying, Reincarnation and Immortality

The Quantum Doctor: A Quantum Physicist Explains the Healing Power of Integral Medicine

Mark Perrin

About Mark Perrin

I’m a member of St Martin’s Anglican in Calgary and a director of the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer. I’m an engineer by training and consult in the oil patch doing engineering, IT and finance work. I am married and have three children. At church I’m an intercessor and participate in our healing prayer ministry. My spiritual life includes Christianity, the healing arts of Qi Gong, Reiki and Shamanism, and a curiosity about how creation works. In my spare time I occasionally post to this site, play with motorcycles, guitars, computers and model trains.
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4 Responses to Praying through dying

  1. Mark, I find the places you’re searching on your own journey quite fascinating. They say an awful lot about who you are, and how you deal with mystery. In regards to your question, “what do you pray or suggest the dying person to pray,” I would say this: pray what you know. Pray what speaks to you.

    When I served in hospital chaplaincy, I would often find myself with people who simply had no words. And I think that’s ok: sometimes telling ourselves we should have the right words or responses ready isn’t helpful. In those times, I reflect on Romans 8:28-30:

    Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    When I (or those I am with) need something formal or with a historical connection, I tend to use words all of us know (or can learn quickly,) like the Lord’s Prayer, The Angelic Salutation, Gloria Patri, etc. Prayer beads can be really helpful, and if you have one of those nifty Anglican sets, you’ll probably find a convenient card with suggested prayers on it, like the Prayer of Julian of Norwich, the Trisagion and the Jesus Prayer.

    Finally, I’ve got to say, sometimes the best prayer I can offer is “Geez, my body hurts.” And I have to trust that God with fill in the blanks.

  2. Joanne Davies

    I am a hospital chaplain. When people are in the passage of dying I spend much time holding their hands, stroking their forehead. I tell them they are safe. I tell them God loves them and is with them. Clear words. And I often repeat. If loved ones are there I encourage them to touch too and to express words of love and saying it is okay to go. I read 1 Corinthians 13 because it is about the love of God, movement through our lives to knowing and most particularly being known and it also comforts those at the bedside. I read Psalm 121. I encourage the family and friends to tell me stories around the bedside. Sometimes they know of a favourite poem or scripture. ( those can be surprising choices sometimes…I go with it 🙂 And then as someone dies…those last few minutes, I pray my own words to begin. And then I offer the formality and calm of our ritual. To offer dignity and quiet and in many ways a normalcy to dying. I use the BAS for the most part. It is accessible for all. I adjust words occasionally but I follow the pattern.  I begin with the last choice … on page 561 Glory be… I offer a lot of silence at the end of my words.  And just stay and wait. I know that God is there and will stay always and I want to join that love. Sometimes I say that out loud. And at death I use the commendation as written and I confess to sometimes saying all of them …Families, nurses, doctors always hear them as if for the first time. And honestly so do I.

    Sitting thru days and weeks with someone dying can be different. Read all the good parts of favourite books. Play music that is much loved. Bring a movie. I saw Jesse’s suggestions of prayer beads and that is also one I have used. The Lord’s prayer as a way to close time visiting is wonderful because it is a connection and a memory that stays through illness and the visitor’s exhaustion. And never be afraid of silence. And leaning back in a chair and being company. That is such a gift. God is with you. Accompanying always.

     

  3. Mark Perrin

    Thanks for your comments! What I get from this is — if I have the honour to present while someone is dying, I will be present where they are. That may mean praying quietly myself and being quiet, praying with them, holding their hand or whatever seems appropriate at that moment. I have felt God’s presence in these powerful moments.

  4. Absolutely. Sometimes, your presence is the greatest thing you can offer!

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