Saturday morning I was out running errands and found myself poking through the “hot books” section of our local library. I had a list in my head of a few things I wanted to read, but a new book jumped out at me and landed in my hand and my heart. It’s called Here If You Need Me, by Kate Braestrup, a memoir by a woman who become a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. The dust jacket says she found an unusual calling as a chaplain for search-and-rescue missions in the Maine woods, and that sounded interesting enough. What really grabbed me, though, after I laughed and cried my way through the first couple of chapters, was discovering that she’s a Unitarian Universalist minister and that her theology felt completely comfortable to me. In the midst of heart-rending, complicated and difficult stories, she holds an unwavering certainty that love is present and that it matters. Dealing with death more often than most of us, she has thought deeply about what it means and says, in words that sounds so completely right to me: “If you want my considered opinion on what actually happens to us when we die, I have to tell you, I think we just die….If you are, in Christian terms, following Christ, or in Unitarian Universalist terms, completely and wholly in love, then you are in heaven no matter where you are. If you are not in love, you are in hell, no matter where you are. The stories we tell of heaven and hell are not about how we die, but about how we live.” So much of this book is about living, about simply being there, loving and caring, not necessarily having the right words (although she often has loving words, funny words, caring words, prayerful words) but being present with the people who need you. May we all find the grace to be present with those we love and to be blessed by the presence of those who love us.
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