46 Romans 8 and Alzheimer’s
The Spirit prays with us
Once I led a graveside service for a woman who had just died of complications from Alzheimer’s. In the process of preparation, I read Romans 8 in a way that has shaped countless conversations with families since then.
Here are the words I shared on that day.
More than I ever have, as I reflected on Romans 8 this week, I got a glimpse of God’s deep love and compassion for us.
Not in the frequently misquoted Romans 8:28. But in the images around that sentence.
For many years, Polly has been unable to speak of God, or really of anything. Yet, even as Polly was cognitively unaware of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit did not stop interceding on her behalf. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit praying for us, with wordless groans, asking things which are right in the middle of the will of God.
Paul means moments like now, when our hearts are confused about whether to be relieved or sad, and so we cry out “God help”, and the Spirit makes sense of it.
But Paul also means years when God’s people cannot make sense of anything, like Polly and my mom in the middle of their Alzheimer’s. They are still God’s people. And God’s spirit was still present in Polly, still interceding when she was not, could not.
As the Father searched her heart, he heard the Spirit saying, “Polly is still yours.” and as He searched her heart he knew the mind of the Spirit which is eternally sound. She was, we could say, still in his right mind.
And even as she forgot to talk about Jesus, Jesus did not forget to talk about Polly. As Paul goes on in Romans 8 to say, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, pleading our case, offering his wounds, rejoicing in us.
Polly was, like each of us, all the talk of the Trinity.