Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Job 38:36:

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?

When you get a chance, go read this post.

The line that struck me in this article was this one:

"What if we begin to conceive of God as abiding, dynamic presence rather than distant, rational ruler? A God who is just as present to the post-dementia person as to the pre-dementia person? A God whose relationship with the person changes as the person changes?"

It got me to thinking about my buddy M. with dementia.

These days, I like to say, his dementia has made him very "non-linear" when it comes to the concept of time. He might say he talked to someone yesterday but it was six weeks ago. He might have just eaten but if you show him a Snickers bar, he is suddenly starving. Time as you and I know it, escapes him. But what I sort of find fascinating is he sees "all the time, all at once." "Forever" is "now." As he was slipping, this was quite frustrating. But once he went to long term care, I realized it didn't matter anymore, and I could, on my visits, live in "his space" as it relates to time.

I am grateful M. still recognizes me. What's interesting is when I am not around, and the staff says he talks about me, the "me" he tells them about is a better "me" than I think I am some days. When I hear that, I realize he sees me in a way I sort of hope how God does.

We so often think of dementia as "loss." We can't help but think of it this way. We are losing a person we once knew. But this article got me to considering another possibility--as dementia peels away our cognitive "thinking" parts of our brains, is it possible--if the right parts of the cortex are peeled away and the underlying "deeper, more 'primitive'" parts of our brain are exposed--are we looking at the parts of people's brains who understand and accept the mystery of God? Does the active, cognitive part of our cortex actually OBSCURE the part of our brain that understands our relationship with God the best?

Another of my friends put it another way. He said, "Even as a child, it seemed quite fathomable, to me, that God had existed forever. It's only, as an adult, when trying to anthropomorphize God, to use a human model for reference, that I encounter difficulty comprehending "no beginning"."

I know where he's coming from. His statement resonated with my own childhood thoughts about God. God just always "was." It was simple enough to believe--truly believe. I probably was about 13 when, for the first time, I had those thoughts of "What if this is all just pious crap? What if we just die and that's it?" We grow up, and simply accepting an "abiding God" seems too difficult.

I think back to the late summer of 2007. M. went with his temple on a tourist trip to Israel, and by then, the early phase of his dementia was well under way. Upon his return, we were sitting with two of my friends, out on the deck of one of them. M. expressed for the first time his real regret about having never been Bar Mitzvah. In his day, Reform Jews did not want to appear too "orthodox." So in the 40's, they would "confirm" their youngsters instead of doing Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

I remember prior to that night, he would mention other "non-traditional" aged folks at his temple that took the plunge with such admiration. I would say, "So why don't you do it?" His answer was, "Oh, I can't learn the Hebrew at my age."

But suddenly, with far less brainpower than he would have had only a few years prior, he expressed a longing to become Bar Mitzvah. M. always considered himself a secular Jew--an "essing and fressing" Jew, as he called it, referring to the Yiddish words for "to eat," and "to eat like a ravenous animal." He liked attending congregational events with food, he went to temple on the "big" holidays--Passover/High Holidays--other Bar/Bat Mitzvahs--stuff like that.

But as his brain started to dissolve, he started going to temple more. He wasn't cutting a bargain with God to save his brain--that was pretty evident--but he just wanted to go to services. When he would tell me about it, it was like he was "hearing the message" better. He had an interest in the message he didn't have before.

I've posted and linked to the story of his Bar Mitzvah before. You can see it again here. It remains the single most transformative moment I've ever seen where I knew God was in the room. It might have been one of the first glimpses I ever got into my own emerging ministry. I learned all those prayers and his Torah portion in Hebrew alongside of him, to help him learn it. Prayers that I would never utter in front of anyone. I learned them so he could do it, and help him practice it. I knew I would do what it took to help him do what he needed to do, when he was up here hanging around in Kirksville. His coach, MH, helped him when he was home in Columbia, but I knew I had to carry the ball on his visiting time here.

But there are times I sit back and realize--he would probably have never done this, had he not gotten dementia. He would have never had that "God-awareness" part of his brain step forward, had his cognition remained intact. He probably never would have had the keystone event of his essence as a Jewish person if he'd "had all his marbles."

It makes me realize something very valuable. To really, truly understand God, to truly abide in God's presence as opposed to creating an anthropomorphized God of our own making, we have to have either lost our marbles or given some away.

So I guess the question is, "Can we give up enough of the veneer of our ego, the crust of our cognition, to truly see the God who abides with us, no matter who we are, or where we are in our life cycle?"



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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