Saturday, 8 June 2013

Worship & The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behoves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

These words by Emerson have been vibrating in the core of my being, the marrow of my bones for quite some time now. A few years ago I would have dismissed them out of hand. I would have simply rejected them and said I don’t worship, how can I worship I don’t believe in anything. That said things did dominate my imaginations and my thoughts and they did determine my character, by falling into non-being and nothingness, by rejecting life I had become nihilistic and this did dominate my thoughts.

But is this worship? 

Well let’s take a look at what we mean by worship.

Worship has its roots in Anglo-Saxon English “worthscipe” or similar variations and meant a condition of being worthy, honoured or renowned . It only became connected to reverence paid to a supernatural being during the 13th century. Worship is not something that is only conducted in places specifically set aside for this function. We worship all the time; we worship whatever it is that we hold in highest regard. As Mr Emerson says what we worship is what dominates our lives our actions. Therefore it is important that we are careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.

A friend of mine recently posted a “Meme” on facebook that read “If money is the root of all evil why does the church beg for it”. Now I know that this was a critique of organised religion, especially the wealth of churches etc and I’m certainly not one to argue against such a critique. That said he is misquoting badly here and failing to understand the point being made in the passage from 1 Timothy ch 6 v 10. The actual quote is “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil...” It is not so much money that is the problem, but the love of it. By loving money you make it the thing of greatest value in your life. You place its value above anything and everything else and therefore by doing so you may begin to neglect everything else; everything else decreases in value. In Matthew ch 6 v 24 Jesus said something similar when he stated “no one can serve two masters. Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

I do not actually believe that either verse is really about money. They are more about what we value the most in life, what is of ultimate worth to us. We need to pay attention to the things that matter in our lives. We all worship, even if we do not believe that we do. We all give our love, our attention, to something and it is this that dominates our lives.

These thoughts bring to my mind the work Bronnie Ware. Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent many years working in palliative care. She worked with patients who were close to death, during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded the patients dying epiphanies in a blog called “Inspiration and Chai” (Bronnie Ware's Blog), this led to a book that she published a couple of years ago titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”(The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. In the book she describes the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives and what this can teach we who live on. She highlighted that there were five particular themes that emerged from her conversations with the dying.

The five regrets were:

 Number 1

"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me: She reflected that "This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."

Number 2:

"I wish I hadn't worked so hard": She reflected that "This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

Number 3: 

"I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings": She reflected that "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

Number 4:  

"I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends": She reflected that "Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

Number 5:

"I wish that I had let myself be happier": She reflected that "This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had then pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

A friend recently recounted the final conversations he had with his father as he was dying. He told me his father had always been driven by material needs and had taught him that money was the thing of highest value in life and that you must strive for it. Then during the last few days his father told him that he now understood that this was not the case and that there were things of far greater value in life, perhaps the most important being family and those who truly love you. It is these that require the greatest care and investment; it is these things that really matter. This is the message that he wanted to pass on to his son, during the final days of his life. I believe that it is a message that we all need to hear. We all need to know what really matters in life.

What we worship matters, as Emerson said “A person will worship something have no doubt about that...that which dominates our imaginations and thoughts will determine our lives and character...for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

What we worship, what we love dominates who are and how we are. Therefore it is vital that we are mindful, attentive and critical about our habits. We need to understand what it is that we hold of highest value in our lives and why we do so. This is why we need to pay attention to our lives. 

This is why communal worship is of such high value to me. Yes ok it was life changing spiritual experiences that led me to search for answers in spiritual communities, but it is not this that held me there. I found so much more by coming to commune, to worship with others. I discovered that by worshipping with others , if only for one hour a week, I was then better able to focus my attention on what really matters during the rest of my time.

Worship though does not only take place in buildings dedicated to its use. Nor is worship exclusively about devotion to a divine being. It did not originally mean this and certainly Emerson himself extended the concept universally. 

Everyone desires and we all possess imagination; everyone holds something of highest value in their lives. We worship whatever it is that dominates our thoughts. This is why it is important what we worship, because as Emerson said “What we are worshipping, we are becoming.”

Be careful what you worship because we all do so, whether we care to admit it or not.

No comments:

Post a Comment