Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Praying past cognition

I had a powerful experience earlier today. This morning, I traveled to a nearby assisted living facility in order to visit with a resident and his spouse in order to bring him communion. His spouse has asked that I come by before I had left for my semi-annual retreat, so this was first moment I had free.

A visit with this gentleman is always a blessing. He is advancing with dementia, and I am sorry for that. From what I have learned of him in the time before this progression began, he was quite the character. A bon vivant sort of person, with talents for business, for the arts (particularly stained glass) and for the life of Christ.

Some of his work, a depiction of the Sacred Heart, lives in my office. He also created a stained glass "sign" that welcomes people to the parish offices. At one point, to fulfill a faith vow to the saint for a prayer that was answered, he created a life-size window of St. Theresa of Avila. On a lighter side, in his room in the home are pictures of him with Johnny Cash and Liberace, for whom he made unique stained glass pieces.

He is the sort of man who can, and did, wear a top hat on special occasions. Not many can "carry" that look in today's age.

Sadly, as his disease progresses, there is a little less of him each time I visit that connects him to the man has has been in the past. The great horror of dementia is that it peels our selves like a carrot, shaving off bits of our person hood while leaving only bits behind. I hate it, and also stand in awe when moments arise when that person emerges for a moment or two of lucid connection. Those moments, while blessings, can also be a cruel tease. Dementia is not about recovery, but about the long journey into loss and grief.

And so, today, as each visit is, was first begun wondering how I would find my parishioner. The good news was that he was in a good mood. The sad news was that his ability to connect was less-than-usual. We walked to an outdoor bench, the three of us, and sat for communion. He picked at a fold in his sweatpants, in a posture of "sort of" listening. Finally, we got to the Lord's Prayer, and I looked up to see his lips moving. It would be a romantic resolution to this post if I told you he was saying the prayer with us. He wasn't. The movement didn't match ours, our words....

...but everything in his manner, his movements, his presence indicated that he was in prayer of some sort. He was quiet. He had stopped picking at the fold on his thigh. He had lowered his head and his lips moved slowly, in not in sync, at least in time with our intonations.

When it came time for him to receive, he offered an "Amen" and a "thank you" before lapsing into quiet, his eyes and his fingers once more finding the fold.

We didn't get his whole self today, but in that moment of prayer, I saw that whatever there is of him here in this world with us, it was connected to God...and to us...in a prayerful interlude I will continue to give thanks for-and carry into-the rest of my day.....

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