Beyond The Horizon
Dr. Francis Collins, a physician-geneticist, who serves as director of National Institutes of Health, is noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He also believes in God. In his book The Language of God, he asserts, “In my view, there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us.”
As the founder of the Hope Initiative, I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Collins. I have been a caregiver for family and friends, and I have served on the board of trustees of our local hospices, and in so doing, I have witnessed first hand, the need to embrace the many medical cures science provides, while at the same time accepting the limits of those human interventions and the need to trust God.
In every life, there comes a time when we must look “Beyond the Horizon.” At that time, real hope requires that we turn to God. Unfortunately, our modern secular culture has removed God from the end-of-life discussion, and in so doing, there have been horrific unintended consequences. Without the presence of God, our thinking is limited to staying on the medical treadmill. Too often patients are tortured until their last breath. Too often a patient’s family leaves the hospital after a death suffering not only grief, but also post-traumatic stress.
Without God, talking about death is too grim, and we are left hopeless— are we going to be burned in the furnace or buried in the dirt? As the founder of The Hope Initiative I want to bring God back into the discussion. Each faith has their own tradition, and I respect all faiths. I am a Christian, so the Hope Initiative has started offering spiritual lifelines from the Christian perspective. My hope is other faiths will add their voices.
In March 2001, I began my efforts by chairing “The Journey of the Soul— Peace at Last,” a conference at the Washington National Cathedral. The conference, attended by 1,500 people was sold out, and there were another 500 names on the wait list, so I know there is a hunger in our culture for spirituality beyond our human limits.
Today, as I continue in this work, I feel blessed that the Hope Initiative is offering a Christian-based course designed to enable caregivers of the chronically and terminally ill to prepare emotionally and spiritually for the struggles and difficulties of caring for an ill person. The discussions focus on Love, Hope, Faith, Peace and Joy, and how they can provide support during difficult times.
Founder of The Hope Initiative
** “Beyond the Horizon” is so named because, when Christopher Columbus set out to sail “beyond the horizon,” most subscribed to the flat earth theory, and there was a certain arrogance in assuming that because no one had ever met someone who returned from “beyond the horizon” it could not exist. Today, we encounter the same narrow thinking— many believe that since no one has come back after dying, death is the end. How hopeless to limit our possibilities. Let’s be open to possibilities, and the Mystery and Majesty of God!
Life-Giving, Life Changing
“This course is not only life-giving but life changing –a true Godsend! If you have ever been searching for the answers of how to handle the big issues of life that come at you, often catching you by surprise, this course will set you on solid footing. Jamie is winsome, intelligent, and rock solid, with compassionate teaching that draws from the wisdom of the ancients. If you or someone you love is facing life’s giants–look no further for the “tool belt” of weaponry needed to face them. By God’s grace, this 5 week class will help to bring you HOPE and give you the strength and clarity you need to defeat your biggest fears–even death itself.”
Founder of Something Greater Ministries
As a medical doctor I have been involved with many patients and their families, and have helped them appreciate the joys in life as well as the inevitable “bad news”. There comes a time when we are confronted with our body’s human limits. Some die quickly in an accident and some die peacefully in their sleep, or as some might fantasize, on the golf course or dance floor.
But most of us will face a chronic and terminal illness that lasts months or years. We do what we can– consult medical professionals and follow their treatment advice, as well as to continue our healthy physical habits (continue to eat right, exercise as appropriate, etc.) and for emotional support, reach out to the people we care about. Healthy relationships need time and attention.
However, to find “Real Hope” we need an anchor, such as one offered in the Serenity Prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
The inevitability is, for each of us – for every patient – a time comes when “modern medicine” reaches its limits – and the nearness of death becomes a reality. In spite of the many scientific advances in medical practice, physical death remains a part of life. For “Real Hope” we have to look beyond physical death, and anchor on the second part of the Serenity Prayer. Whether a patient or caregiver, we must trust in God.
Trusting that there is something beyond our understanding, and our earthly limits, gives us “Real Hope.” We can find peace at last, trusting there is more to life than this chapter. Prayer, meditation and church attendance can help us focus on a broader perspective.
In addition, the “Hope Initiative” provides solace to patients and caregivers alike. The series is based on five thematic stones – Hope, Love, Joy, Faith and Peace – and offers patients and their caregivers access to powerful talks to supplement their own Christian practices. Each presentation relates one of the stones to our daily lives, with the overall guidance to help us accept the challenges we face as death approaches, through an understanding of the Hope God brings. The presentations are enlightening – not depressing – they provide tools to help us continue on in God’s presence, whatever our challenges.
The five-part series began as an “in-person” series of noontime lectures, with lunch and discussion. It is now available as an internet-based program – the presentations can be video-streamed on your iPad, or for a group, on a large projection television or monitor screen. Just as the body needs food and liquids, the Hope Initiative talks provide food for the soul that can be shared with family, friends and fellow caregivers. Questions are offered to encourage discussion with fellow participants.
The Hope Initiative can strengthen our relationship with God; and also provide fellowship with the others who gather together to listen to the talks. Together we can anchor on the important and priceless…God’s love!
Medical care, alone, is never enough. Death will always be a part of life. The Hope Initiative provides patients and caregivers stones we can use to grow closer to God, and through this relationship, be better prepared emotionally and spiritually for physical death, which, eventually, becomes a reality for each of us. With the five spiritual stones in our daily lives, physical death can become a gateway to peace at last.
Joyce M. Johnson, DO
Rear Admiral, USPHS (ret)
Physician Board Certified in Public Health Preventive Medicine and Psychiatry
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University
Believing in the Great Beyond
Modern medicine and it’s grip on the sick and dying is often rooted in our collective refusal to understand real hope. Patients have learned to put all their trust in a false god… exclusive use of curative care…it has value yet it is part of a complement of healing forces… In isolation, it can destroy the body and the spirit because once someone is on the treatment treadmill, they do not know how to get off.
Finally, people die exhausted, angry, and soulfully wounded….I witness it every day. and it breaks my heart.
I do this work because I believe at my core that life and love never end when our bodies die. Our Creator would never let that happen. Believing in the Great Beyond is what helps my patients take the next step on the hard journey toward the transition from life to death.
The Hope Initiative spoke directly to me. It was personally encouraging for me, as well as a time of personal reflection to explore my preferences. Hope at the End offers serenity.
Senior Program Director
Volunteers of America Chesapeake