This week I have visited two people I know well both deeply unhappy in Old People’s Homes into which they have moved recently, while also noticing gratefully the attention and awareness of those caring for them. One is my mother, fully conscious of the way her recurring dizziness among other things severely curtails living her life meaningfully; her constant refrain is that she doesn’t want to wake up in the morning. The other is a regular member of one of our congregations here, confused and with diminishing memory with which to relate to anyone meaningfully; her insistent, frustrated, angry refrain is that she wants to go home.
I feel increasingly sad and helpless about this myself. I’m also puzzled again by the absence of significant theological reflection on this predicament. Without anything else, I return to a long established question, however heretical it may seem.
The background assumption to the question is this. From the moment of incarnation God was part of the limitations of our time and space. This meant ‘choosing’ to be subject to the pain and wearing out which is hard wired into any creation. So from that defining moment, as Christ that night was a single dividing cell, it was inevitable that this had to be worked through into trauma and death. However we express our theology of atonement, and whichever side we take in an argument about the passibility or impassability of God, this taking up of pain, wearing out, trauma and death by or into God is somehow where we find our salvation.
The question is this. This was worked out in execution in his 30s. But was that particular place and method simply contingent? Would it have been less salvatory if it had worked out in abortion or miscarriage? Would it have been less salvatory if it had worked out in the stripping away of meaningful life in frustrated decline and in dementia? Do I encounter a Pieta each time I’m called to a stillbirth in our hospital? Do I encounter Christ’s cry of dereliction is the helplessness (theirs, but also mine) in these situations in our Old People’s Homes?
Meanwhile, my wife has continued her late father’s exploration of their Aberdeenshire ancestry, including information about a great great uncle (and his Orcadian wife) who happened to come south to find work in Grimsby, and who at one stage lived in this parish. It would have been too strong a coincidence if family weddings had taken place in one of our churches (they took place mainly in Grimsby URC, which was then St Columba’s Presbyterian Church) and his burial in the 1930s had been in one of our churchyards (they are buried in the Scartho Road Cemetery).
We discovered their grave and its gravestone (in the foreground of this picture) last evening in a section of the cemetery where few gravestones survive, and we assume that she has unsuspected third cousins near here today.