From understanding and articulating to disunited nations
Understanding and articulating
I enjoyed Richard Seebohm’s article (25 May) but was stopped in my tracks by a comment about the afterlife in relation to Alzheimer’s. The assumption is that since people with the condition seem to have no sentient life they illustrate the possibility that there is no eternity for any of us in the sense of an afterlife.
A common premise is that because people at an advanced stage of dementia cannot communicate with us on our terms they effectively cease to exist as sentient beings. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, when I worked with adults with dementia, we understood that they gradually withdraw into their own interior mindscape. Even before the terminal stages of the illness, when communication is increasingly difficult, the utterances of the ill person can be seen to have their own rationale which, by careful response and validation, make perfect sense in terms of the life lived, and earlier experiences of attachment and loss.
People with Alzheimer’s might not be sentient on our terms but they are intensely feeling beings, their lives dominated by primitive feelings of frustration, fear and anxiety (sometimes expressed as anger) in a world they cannot control or understand. We used a technique called validation therapy and, drawing on attachment theory, made physical and emotional contact through therapeutic circle dance.
If we try to understand all people on their own terms, our hopes for ourselves become easier to see and articulate, and we don’t consign anyone to the margins of our particular heaven.
Worship and wisdom
I agree that we need to find words that speak to a wider audience. We also need to communicate the richness and depth of our collective and individual understanding and experience. I want to use the word ‘worship’ because for me it is about connecting to deep wisdom. I am opening myself to a presence that is always there when I remember to tap into it. Being guided by that wisdom is a spiritual practice that helps me find my direction. Meeting one another in worship is a sacred act.
This discussion is part of a wider issue about inclusivity and how we share our knowledge with others without over-simplifying. We need to engage creatively with this issue, so we can pass on our gifts and learn from others. Being open-hearted and welcoming is to invite people to join us in our journey, to be part of our faith community and make a home with us, if they wish. Quaker faith & practice is invaluable because it is an evolving anthology of our wisdom that describes our core beliefs and practices in a way that is open to new light and grounded in tested experience and beliefs. We are not asked to agree with it all; simply to find what speaks to us in that moment. Its purpose is to reflect our leadings and discoveries, with all our differences, struggles and insights. It defines who we are and why we are with many different words. Let us be enriched by diversity!
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