Walking With A Friend

12 Sep

The beautiful words in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer offer comfort and consolation when they remind us that at the end of life “we shall see him who is my friend and not a stranger.”  The reference, of course, is to God, but I’d like to think about an alternative idea, one that might speak to our fear of death and the end of life.

Most of us have been taught by our culture that death is a specter lurking in the shadows until it can pounce upon its prey.  Death is to be feared, regarded as an enemy to be avoided.  But what if…as the spiritual guide John O’Donohue suggested…death is a silent friend and companion from the very beginning of life?  O’Donohue used to tell people that death doesn’t just show up at the end of life, because we all have a “secret friend” who has been beside us since we appeared on the planet.  And, in fact, from the first breath of air we draw, we are launched into an inevitable process of living toward dying.  It happens to us all, even to profound philosophers like Woody Allen who is reported to have said:  “I don’t mind dying.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  It happens, and we will be there.  But what if we’ve been walking all these years with a friend who has waited with us when we have gone through suffering, who has stood by while we healed from hurts, who has been faithful through our bumps and bruises…walking with us, always beside us, part of our deepest identity?

We all know there will come a time when the human body can’t continue the journey; that’s just the way our bodies are made.  The disease is too severe, the injury too profound, the body simply not strong enough to mend anymore.  And it is then that our “silent friend”, the companion who has walked all the way with us, the deepest part of our own nature, takes us by the hand.  It’s like walking with a lifelong companion, a trusted and caring friend, who has never abandoned me and won’t even now.

Name the companion what you will…God, Death, Life, Source…it’s up to you.  It’s just so good to know that, in that moment, we can link our arms, like old friends do, and simply walk on together.  The sting of death begins to disappear and in its place a song forms in our hearts.

Do you remember how this line ends?  “…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and…”?


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