By Richard Holloway
Reviewed by John Cowan
This is the work of a kind, sensitive and erudite man. Do not let the fact that he was the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Scotland put you off. This is a human being of capacity, somehow surviving the perversions of power. That is what is required for this topic. He is talking about death. Yours and mine and his!
He brings to bear on the topic not only his intelligence but the thoughts of dozens of writers and speakers that he has read and assimilated over the nine plus decades of his life.
He is a deeply religious man who has little respect for the boundaries expected in a religious man. (How often it is that the deeply religious have the least respect for the boundaries. Take Jesus for example.) One factual story he tells will suffice I think:
He was present for this, but not the central figure. The central figures were a priest and a four-year-old girl the priest was ministering to. She was dying and everyone knew it, including her. She asked him if when she died she would be able to see her brother and sister again and he assured her that she would, that she would play with them, and that God had a home created for her and her family, that they would all live in together in total happiness, forever.
She died peacefully.
One of her aunts challenged the priest saying, “I know what you believe! I have heard you. You think, as I do, that death is final. Why did you not tell her the truth?
He replied, “There was no room for the truth in there.”
I read that while at a conference at which I was in a group of ten practicing Quaker silent worship for five days, two and a half hours at a time in the morning and then a half hour of chat. I dropped this scene on them and we soaked in it for a good amount of time. First, it is simply heart-breaking. No more to say about that.
And then what would you have answered? Perhaps for you his answer was the truth? At this moment I envy that. My answer is that I do not know, very satisfying in intellectual conversation, very unsatisfying in that moment. In that moment, I think I would tell her other people’s truth, as the truth. Why tell her mine?
So far I have never faced such a decision. O Lord, continue to deliver me.
You might like Richard Holloway. You might want to soak in him for a good amount of time. I did.