Monday, May 6, 2013

Falling Asleep by James O. Renault

I get lots of church newsletters from former students; an "occupational hazard" of having been in theological education all those years. Most are not worth reading...just programmatic and promotional flotsum. But a long-time friend (since college) who is a United Methodist pastor sent me an article he wrote for his church newsletter that is both poignant and profound. His name is James O. Renault, and he is pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Dade City, Florida. His article follows.

His eyes betrayed him.  Ryder, our eighteen month old grandson, was active as ever, but his eyes said he needed to take a nap.  Judy and I had tried to lay him down earlier but he was having none of it.  Now it was my turn to watch him.  I tried to lay him down next to me.  No go.  I let him run around some more hoping his obvious need for sleep would catch up with him.  No luck.  Then I picked him up and gently swayed back and forth while using a noise that sounds like "ssh...ssh...ssh."  Some call it shushing.  I use it instead of singing because I did not want to give Ryder nightmares.

I gently put my hand on his head, and gradually moved it closer to my shoulder until finally it touched.  After a few minutes, I could feel his little body starting to relax.  His arm fell to his side.  His breathing grew deeper and his body finally went limp.  He was asleep.  I waited a few more minutes before laying him down in the crib, patting his back and still shushing him until I was convinced he was long into his nap.  I left the room as quietly as I could.

I have rocked my children to sleep many times, but that was long ago.  I have put grandchildren to sleep a few times, but again it has been a while ago.  Something about this experience hit me like a ton of bricks.  Having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the purest forms of love and trust.  When a baby falls asleep in your arms, it means you have surrounded it with a soothing sense of warmth, love, and protection.  Ryder implicitly and completely trusted me with his life.

The more I think about that simple, everyday experience, the more I am convinced that for that sublime moment in time we get as close to God as we are ever going to get in this life.

I believe that is what Jesus felt during his final moments of life.  When He prayed to His Father, "Into your hands I commend my spirit," Jesus used a line from a prayer that Hebrew children often prayed before they went to bed.  I believe in those final moments, God picked Jesus up, laid his head against his shoulder, and gently rocked him back and forth.  All the while God softly whispered in Jesus' ear, "ssh...ssh...ssh."  Then Jesus' body slowly relaxed as he drifted off into God's eternal presence.

That is how I am going to think of death from now on, as simply falling asleep with my head on God's shoulder, surrounded by his love, comfort, and peace.  James O Renault

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