Friday, September 20, 2019

Beth Surdut: Paying Attention is an Art

Meet Beth Surdut: Environmental Artist, Textiles Painter, and Writer. I had the pleasure of meeting this deeply spiritual and deeply earthed woman, during a recent gallery reception for her wildlife art.

Creator of "The Art of Paying Attention," a series of illustrated wildlife radio essays and true adventure stories heard and seen on NPR, Beth is always watching and listening. From the field or face to face, she raises the bar of attentiveness, for each of us. I introduce her today because she understands the journey of death.

Sacred Journey

Let us revisit the concept that death is NOT a medical event, but a spiritual one. It is sacred but often, only the dying person knows this! Beth told the story of painting a silk scarf to be gifted to a woman with terminal illness. "This will help," said the dying woman as the scarf was draped around her shoulders. When deeply asleep, the scarf could be removed and freshened but otherwise, "Where is my scarf!?" the woman demanded. Beth noted: "the healing scarves I make (unless otherwise requested) contain the Hebrew r'fuah  shleimah (complete healing, the short form of a prayer requesting the complete healing of body and spirit), whereas  a tallit-- a prayer shawl-- is for meditation that is not  necessarily associated with distress. Both are made with kavanah (intention) and offer places of comfort."

Beth also explained, for my benefit, the purpose of the Jewish prayer shawl, Tallit. As it is placed over the head and drawn down over the shoulders, the wearer enters a world of soul and God, absolute truth, the ultimate All. Prayer and meditation should be a journey--of seeking and enlightenment.

'Sacred Dying' is a term coined by the late Dr. Megory Anderson, and a ministry I described in my post Silent Night, Holy Night: Sacred Dying is another reason to write condolence. Whether you are a hospice volunteer, friend or family member of a dying individual, your presence at the deathbed can be uplifting if carefully considered. Vigiling is not for everyone, and Sacred Dying mentors stress that behaviors such as wailing and denial at bedside are disturbing to the journey and work of dying. I encourage readers to sign up for the 10 Tips to Vigil & Establish Sacred Presence.

Comfort objects

Clearly, acknowledging the sacred journey with a special scarf such as those created by Beth Surdut is like hanging a welcome banner:  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

As life, ego and cares falls away, a special object of comfort-- if given with great love-- focuses attention on a good death. Do you remember the scene in the 1981 movie, Arthur, where Dudley Moore brings gifts to his dying butler, Hobson?  The seemingly ridiculous gift of a basketball became a true comfort object--an undemanding companion.

What would you choose for a comfort object? Is there someone you know who needs one?

Thank you for caring!

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