Holy Week with the Medics

Charing Cross 2It has been an unusual Holy Week. The option for 4th year medical students on ‘Death, Autopsy and Law’ has given me two great days of reflection during the week Christians remember the last week of Jesus’ life.

On Monday I acted as an extra small group facilitator for a session on ‘Personhood and Suffering’ led by Prof Tom Sensky. The session invited reflection on the overlooked question of ‘what or rather who is a person?’ There were various exercises in which students considered the important people and aspects of their own lives and identity. They were then asked to choose the two most important ones. It was an experience of imagining ‘loss’. Obviously, it was hard to choose – ‘boyfriend or parents? Which parent? Which sibling? What about my love of doing…?’ This was preparation for considering the aspects of the self that are ‘lost’ during illness.

As a Christian priest it seemed a good thing that would be doctors had to imagine themselves loosing key elements of thier own identity or personhood.  They were putting themselves in the picture of loss and suffering.They did this before looking at the case studies of patients  and thier responses to serious illness.

It was also interesting to think in this way during a week when as a  Christian I am  remember ing Jesus consciously choosing to go up to Jerusalem to offer himself into the violent social mix of religion, Empire, military occupation and oppressive taxation. Jesus gives away his life (personhood) and suffers. He does this to show us the ways we human beings use violence and conflict to avoid facing our own wounds and limitations.

The next day I had arranged for the same group to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. Our guide took us on a tour of funeral and burial objects from different times, cultures and religions. This led to more discussion in which we considered our own approach to death and funerals.

So I spent two days with people who are looking at all aspects of death, end of life care and autopsy. It vividly reminded me that in the Christian story there is new life after Jesus’ suffering and death. And yet it also made me very aware that the risen Christ still has carries the wounds of his own death. This can not be explored through thinking – it needs a physical, bodily meditation practice.

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