John Rushing’s Final Prayer

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John Rushing’s Final Prayer

I was in his hospital room when John Rushing died a few days ago. He was in his 80s. An aneurysm burst in John’s aorta and he was rushed to the hospital. He survived the emergency surgery but couldn’t seem to wake up afterward. They tried for several days to wean him off the ventilator and the medications, but he kept crashing. When his kidneys failed, his family knew the time had come. After careful discussions and prayers, they gently removed the things that were keeping him alive, allowing his body to live or die on its own.

There is no way I can describe the fullness of John Rushing’s life in this short essay. You should know that he was not a flashy man. He did not achieve the kind of things that people call extraordinary. He was a faithful clergyman. The churches he served over the years all remember him with great affection. He was a loving husband who was faithful with his body and his heart to his wife of over fifty years. His children and grandchildren adored him. He liked fishing, telling jokes, his pipe, and good meals. His life was marked not by moments of soaring genius but by decades of quiet, faithful, steady living.

John Rushing was a good man. That description is a perfect one for him, understated and simple. How I wish it conveyed the depth of his life, the breadth of its influence, and the power of the love I saw in those surrounding his deathbed.

On John’s last day in this world, his family and a few friends gathered in his hospital room. John was deep asleep, breathing raggedly in and out. He seemed blissfully unconcerned with the somber activity around him, as if he was already halfway to another world and losing interest in this one. We prayed, read scriptures, and sang his favorite songs. But always our attention was drawn to his hypnotic breathing. In and out. In and out. People told funny stories about John's life and we all laughed. Then we would grow silent and his breathing would become again the center of attention.

In and out. A little wet, a little raspy, a little labored. But steady. In and out. It was like a light snore, the kind of thing a peaceful man does in his chair after Thanksgiving dinner. These were the last sounds of John Rushing. John who was always there. John who was faithful in every thing and to everyone he knew. John who was as comforting and present to his loved ones as air and breath.

There is a Christian prayer tradition that is not familiar to many in our Western culture. It is called Hesychasm, and it is marked by careful, rhythmic breathing and the repetition of simple prayers and spiritual phrases. About an hour before John died, it occurred to me that he was praying. Like a seasoned hesychast of the ancient, Eastern tradition, John was offering his final sounds to God.

Yes, he was praying. Do not doubt it, for a man like John prays with every part of his life. HIs sleeping and his rising are prayers. His work is a prayer. His love of family and life are prayers. Even his funny hats, one-piece jumpsuits, and aromatic pipes are joyous offerings to God.

We were there for a couple of hours, bearing witness to the last prayers of John Rushing. At 11:27 am John’s breathing skipped a beat. After a few final breaths, he inhaled and paused. We waited, but he never exhaled. One last helping of this world and he was done.

There was silence. And love. His wife buried her head in her oldest son’s chest and cried. We all cried. We cried because it was so happy and so sad at the same time.

We cried because after 81 years, we now live in a world without John Rushing.

Gordon Atkinson with permission from the Rushing Family. Image by Grant Hutchinson.

You might also be interested in David Rupert's piece about his father's death. Read here to learn more about Hesychasm.