Voices from the Hospice

9780334054269In Voices from the Hospice: Staying with Life Through Suffering and Waiting, hospice chaplain Bob Whorton takes us deep into the human experience of suffering and waiting. We asked Bob to offer some thoughts on how he came to write the book:

As a hospice chaplain I ‘do’ very little. I have no drugs to ease pain, no physiotherapy to offer and no skill in washing a fragile body. The helplessness of patients and relatives can be mirrored in the experience of the hospice chaplain. What I can offer is my open, waiting self.  In my book Voices from the Hospice: Staying with Life Through Suffering and Waiting (SCM 2015) I use the metaphor of a train journey to illustrate the things in life which we have no control over but simply have to be lived (we don’t drive the train!) I hear relatives in the hospice talk of being on an express train which is going too fast towards the death of a loved one. Or in complete contrast a patient might talk of a train which meanders much too slowly through the countryside; she wants to have arrived at her destination but feels she will never get there. And I hear people using the image of the roller coaster which takes them up and down, up and down, on this challenging journey. The train might take us through a life-limiting illness, or a relationship breakdown, or burnout, or questioning our faith … The ideas for the book came into focus when I read a poem by Joanna Tulloch entitled ‘Conveyancing’:

…. and it’s no good
trying to short-circuit the process.
The train that takes us there
stops at every station …..

(Tulloch J., (2014) A Reflection of God, Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, p. 67)

This rang true of my own experience of trying to find a life which is authentic and it spoke of the experience of patients and families in the hospice. We want to change reality, to fix things, to persuade God to give us a different sort of life. And sometimes all we can do is to ‘allow’ life in, however hard that is. When we can allow reality, we find we are on a true Way towards life rather than death, and patients and family members in a hospice can be our teachers in this. As we move through the stations we will struggle with belief, fall off the edge of the normal, wrestle with forgiveness and die our many deaths. In addition there are the inevitable station waiting rooms where we are stranded for a while and nothing seems to change. This all sounds rather bleak! But I think it is the reality we are sometimes called to live. Walter Brueggemann in his writing on the psalms of lament talks about a movement from orientation (normal, stable life) through disorientation (the bottom falls out of life) to new orientation (the grace of new life).  We learn to sing a new song when we have travelled through the many stations of disorientation and find ourselves taken to a totally new place – which is pure gift.

You can buy a copy of Voices from the Hospice, and see what others thought of the book here.

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Sport: A Short Theological Reflection

ChipBqPWMAAG5HsAs the sporting summer kicks off, Lincoln Harvey  author of
A
Brief Theology of Sport (SCM Press, 2014), reflects on why we are so obsessed with sport.

Viewing figures over the coming months will again prove that sport is popular. With Wimbledon, the Euros, Test cricket, and the Olympics on the horizon, many of us will be glued to the box. But it’s not immediately obvious why? On the face of it, sport looks pretty pointless. It’s not as if it does anything, with some product sliding off the conveyor belt or a precious mineral being unearthed. Of course, sport has itself become a commodity, with the corporate profit-seekers trampling over court and pitch, but the average fan hates all that. Who needs to be reminded of a credit card or fizzy drink when they watch a match? Sport is not meant to be used in that way, anymore than it’s meant to be harnessed to some political bandwagon and used for propaganda. Sport is an end in itself, and so it shouldn’t be spoilt. The church should remember that.

Of course, from another angle, sport certainly does have a point, and it also has goals and targets. But these are all intrinsic to the game. The batsman doesn’t score a winning run because it makes them fitter, nor because it earns them a living. They do it because that’s the point of cricket, effectively giving the game its meaning – everything else is secondary. And just so, if we keep this in mind, we can say that sport is an unnecessary yet meaningful activity. That’s why we love it.

We love sport because its unnecessary yet meaningful nature echoes our deepest identity. We too are unnecessary yet meaningful. That’s because God didn’t need to create us, as if he was contractually obliged to make this world. Nor was there some internal deficiency that compelled him to do it, as if he were alone and in need of some company. The Christian knows that the one God eternally keeps his own company, with the Father, Son and Spirit mutually bestowing and receiving identity in relationship. Thus, the triune God is utterly fulfilled, and so, when he acts, he does so freely. Otherwise put, we are unnecessary.

But, though we’re unnecessary, we’re certainly not meaningless. The church believes that God summoned the creature into existence for a purpose, with the goal being our enjoyment of endless fellowship with himself. That is to say, the meaning of the creature is love.

We can hopefully already see how the unnecessary yet meaningful nature of the creature maps neatly onto the unnecessary yet meaningful nature of sport. This correspondence suggests that when we play or watch a game, we’re reverberating with our deepest identity, entering a ritual in which we can celebrate our created being by expressing our created nature. And that’s why we love sport. It captures who we are. So let’s try to remember this as we’re glued to the television over the coming months. And it’s certainly something the church could proclaim.

Lincoln Harvey is Assistant Dean and Lecturer in Systematic Theology at
St Mellitus College in London. You can order a copy of A Brief Theology of Sport here. This article first appeared on the Diocese of London website.