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Facing Death With Faith

Kayla Mueller's beautiful letter to her family while being held by ISIS is an eloquent testament of faith in the midst of adversity that continues to inspire after her death.

The letter also affirms what a developing body of research is finding: Religion can be a critical resource in reducing death anxiety.

Not all will benefit equally, and some may suffer greater worries if they believe they will be found wanting by a judgmental divinity.

The research, explored in the religion blog Ahead of the Trend, opens windows of understanding for religious communities, caregivers and family and friends seeking to help support loved ones in their journey through the shadows of the valley of death.

The article,"How Religion Matters in the Face of Death," By David Briggs, is available free, courtesy of the Association of Religion Data Archives.

There are other ways faith influences death and dying.

To help us understand the role religion plays in a martyr's death, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research offers "Dying a Martyr’s Death: The Political Culture of Self-Sacrifice in Contemporary Islamists," by Babak Rahimi of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

In his paper, Rahimi explains what motivates religious extremists to justify death by martyrdom as an affirmation of their faith.

In 2014, Religion News Service outlined the debate surrounding end-of-life decisions in "5 Things to Know About Death and Dying Debates" by Cathy Lynn Grossman.

The article tells the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman who chose to die by a legal, lethal prescription before a brain tumor killed her, and in a video that accompanies the story, Maynard discusses her decision and the debate surrounding it.

She died just weeks later.

Brittany Maynard talks about her decision to seek physician-assisted suicide before a brain tumor killed her.

Religion commentator Krista Tippett reflects on how conversations about prolonging life or allowing death evolved in the early 2000s, and how views on those decisions have changed. In "Leaving One's Legacy," Tippett introduces Joan Halifax, a medical anthropologist, Buddhist teacher, and founder of the Project on Being with Dying. Download or play the episode here.

While death is a decision for some, for others, the prospect is frightening. The website, Practicing Our Faith, asks, "How is it that some people are able to die with the assurance that death is not the final word?"

In the Christian practice of dying well, Christian people do things with and for one another in response to God's strong love, translating into concrete acts our belief in the resurrection of Christ, and of ourselves. Dying well embraces both lament and hope, and both a sense of divine judgment and an awareness of divine mercy.

In "Recovering care for the dying as a spiritual practice," on the website of Faith & Leadership, an offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Rob Moll writes about the role of the caregiver — usually a family member providing care to an ailing relative.

"Today’s long-term caregivers stand in the ancient Christian tradition of the happy death. But our churches are largely ignorant of it," he says. The church no longer teaches "the art of dying," he adds, or "provide a meaningful narrative for this end of life process." What can the church do to help families and caregivers care for the dying?

Also see our resource, “Coping with Death and its Grief,” and “Best Resources on Spiritual Practices.”

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