Every four months I have flown to Virginia to visit with my mother who lives in a health care unit of a lovely Methodist retirement home. This month she will be 93 years old. On this last trip I made my way through the graceful lobby, walked down a series of wide hallways covered in tasteful carpet. I passed large arrangements of flowers on antique tables, looked at framed prints on the wall of seashores. Everyone who walked by me smiled and wished me a good day.
We can dress up a nursing home quite nicely these days, but if you listen to those who live there they will tell you it’s still a nursing home. There are human souls waiting behind the door and everyone knows what they’re waiting for. No one is all that interested in dying in a nursing home. They would prefer to die at home, but they’ve outlived that possibility. The old ones know that they have slid far down the slippery slope of losses. The small room we sit in makes it painfully clear that in the end we all die stripped of most of the things we spent a lifetime collecting.
“God make your gracious love evident to my mother at this time in her life,” I pray. Always there will be tears shed and I know better than to ever dishonor them. Always we will talk about life lost in pieces and yet how we are never lost to God. “Of course, but look at me now,” she says sadly. On the other hand we will laugh until our sides ache. My favorite memory this time was leaving the dining room after dinner, having shared some wine together. Mom is driving her scooter and the waiter is ahead of her guiding the way just like those people guide the planes into the gate at the airport. It was a gut buster. O my, how we do love one another!
Every time I visit I realize that I have been granted another visit to the Holy of Holies. The ancient temple in Jerusalem had many ornate trappings, all designed to allow people to walk through its halls and courts with dignity and decorum. But the point of the temple was to get to the Holy of Holies, the meeting place with God. That special room had no trappings, furnishings or reassuring distractions. Just an altar. And on that altar a solitary high priest made his sacrifice to God. I wasn’t the high priest when I visited my mother, though in her humored confusion she did wonder if I was the messiah, the anointed one! No...I was only the witness of what she does that every member of the priesthood of believers eventually has to do. In the end we all place our life on the altar before God. It may not be very pretty, but my God it is holy.