The day before he died, my father wore what his doctors called the "Star Wars mask"—a high-tech oxygen system that covered most of his face. Pneumonia made his breathing extremely labored, but that didn't keep him from chatting.
"Pardon?" my mom would ask patiently, trying to decipher his muffled sounds. Exasperated, he'd yank off the mask, bringing himself to the brink of respiratory arrest to ask about hockey trades or complain about the hospital food.
After several hours, he gave up on conversation. He started singing.
"What are you humming?" my mom asked. My dad repeatedly tried to answer through the mask before yanking it off again. "With Christ in the Vessel, I Can Smile at the Storm," he gasped. "Wow," murmured my mom, before singing it with him.
My dad learned "With Christ in the Vessel" at Camp Imadene in 1949, the summer he asked Jesus into his 8-year-old heart. Six decades later, hours before his death, that silly old camp song was still embedded in his soul and mind, and he was singing it at the top of his nearly-worn-out lungs.
I have never liked thinking about my own death. But I've considered it enough to know I hope I go down singing, or at least speaking or thinking, something about Jesus.
I suppose that is why I found myself sobbing on an airplane while reading Margaret Guenther's The Practice of Prayer. In one section, Guenther discusses the Eastern Christian discipline of continuously repeating the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." She reports her own efforts to incorporate the practice into her daily life, even sizing up the logs she chops for firewood by ...