My Christian faith has much to do with the fact that I grew up in a Christian family. Sunday by Sunday I benefitted (mostly) from one or two sermons delivered by my Father, which all now reside in his study neatly filed by date and theme. Sadly, because of dementia, my Father would no longer make sense of his filing system and would struggle to read more than a few lines of any of his sermons, the fruit of so much thought and time. And I wonder if the faith that he has so clearly shared with thousands over the years has any substance for him today.
How might it be possible to know God when one struggles to recognise someone you have known well who is physically in front of you?
It strikes me that this question is at the heart of any Christian approach to dementia.
In our life of faith we depend a great deal on our intellectual capacities. We are ‘people of the book’, reading and interpreting the Bible. In the life of the Church we share our understanding and learn from each other. Aspects of our belief, such as the Holy Trinity, challenge our ability to make sense of complex concepts as we seek the God who will remain beyond our full understanding (otherwise he would not be God!)
Yet our faith is more about a relationship of trust in God and, as in any relationship, is something we experience and sense rather than learn on an intellectual level. We have all had experience of some beautiful part of God’s creation. This experience, with a sense that it is a gift, is our knowledge and awareness of God, the loving creator, in whom we can trust.
The important question then is ‘do we need more than this?’ To experience beauty, to feel love, to receive care – are these our relationship with and knowledge of God?
I am very aware that my own faith in Jesus Christ has come from experiencing him through my family and others. I trust that while my Father’s faith can no longer be supported by his intellect, he might remain in relationship with Christ through the love and care he is given in his confusion.
During my sabbatical I am hoping to have a number of conversations with people who, with experience of dementia in themselves or in loved ones, may be able to give some substance to these thoughts of mine. I trust that, we might see that dementia is not the disaster that we tend to think it is because, in the love of Jesus, God is as much a part of life as he ever has been.