November 29, 2020

An Excerpt from “Walking Home Together”

WHT Book Sm

A Good Walk Home

When I was young, we walked. It seems to me now that we walked everywhere. We walked to and from school. We walked to our friends’ homes, and I distinctly remember walking to my grandparents’ house on the other side of town. We walked to fields of dreams where we chose teams and played our games. We walked to the neighborhood store and plunked down our nickels and dimes to buy candy, pop, and baseball cards. We walked downtown, to church for choir practice after school, and to the pool in summer. We got to baseball practice by walking, and we carried basketballs under our arms as we walked to the courts at the park. We leaned fishing poles on our shoulders as we walked to the banks of the river just above the dam in hopes of catching some bullheads or catfish. We walked to the record store to pick up that week’s Top 40 list and—when we had saved up enough—to buy the latest 45. Sometimes we rode our bikes, but mostly we walked.

We walked on streets and sidewalks, through grassy fields and mown lawns. One childhood house where I lived was connected to the entire neighborhood by a string of backyards uninterrupted by fences or barriers of any kind (there were fewer fences then), and the neighbors kindly let us treat it as a thoroughfare and playground. We could walk up and down the brick street in front or through the yards in back and get most anywhere children would want to be.

As we got older, we continued to walk but with new companions. It was then that we walked the neighborhoods with girlfriends and boyfriends, in mixed groups of those who were going steady and those who hoped to be soon. As time went on, some escaped the group in pairs and walked as couples, exploring youthful dreams and timeless mysteries together.

A good deal of our walking in those days was aimless. We were just “walking around,” we told our parents. But whether we went to a certain destination or not or for a particular purpose or not, eventually it came time for us to walk home. At some point we came back around; the walk was complete; we said goodbye and then bounded up the steps and through the screen door. We were home.

This book is about the walk home.

Whether simply on account of advanced age or through a terminal diagnosis you have received, you have reached a place in your life where you know you’re on the way home. You are on the final leg of your life’s journey. You will soon pass through a door called “death” and be home. Your home may be across town—a good long trek—or it could be a few streets away or perhaps just around the next corner. It may even be in sight, and in a few steps the door will beckon. Soon you will say goodbye to those with whom you’ve journeyed through life, go through that door we call “death,” and enter another reality. You will be home.

My purpose in this book is to accompany you on this homeward portion of your walk. I would count it a privilege to be your companion, to help you think through what a “good walk home” might look like for you.

Henri Nouwen once wrote:

Is death something so terrible and absurd that we are better off not thinking or talking about it? Is death such an undesirable part of our existence that we are better off acting as if it were not real? Is death such an absolute end of all our thoughts and actions that we simply cannot face it? Or is it possible to befriend our dying gradually and live open to it, trusting that we have nothing to fear? Is it possible to prepare for our death with the same attentiveness that our parents had in preparing for our birth? Can we wait for our death as for a friend who wants to welcome us home?

• Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift

In my daily work, I serve as a hospice chaplain. I work with individuals and their families who find themselves at this stage of life. The older I get, the more I discover that each of life’s seasons has its own path, its own challenges, and its own rewards. The “end of life” season is no different, and I think it is important that we give it some attention since we are all going to have to make that journey.

…If you are aware that you are in the final season of life, then you may consider yourself blessed indeed. It may sound strange, but this can be a gift, for such knowledge may bring a new clarity—the stakes are clear, and the ending point is understood. Like all who came before you and all who will come after you, you will die, and this is no longer a theoretical concept to you. You are actually on the way home, so it is time to plan for “a good walk home.” You have been granted a season in which, by God’s grace and the loving assistance of others, you can craft a fruitful and peaceful conclusion to your life’s journey. To that end, I wrote this book for you.

• • •

Walking Home Together
By Michael Mercer
Twenty-Third Publications, 2016


  1. Does this man sleep?!!!

    Job, family, keeping iMonk afloat, and he can slip a book in there too!

    Respect, sir.

    • LOL! And true.
      Thanks Chaplain Mike!

    • Danielle says

      I have wondered this on many occasions. 🙂

    • I used to think there were at least two Michael Spencers. I’m sure there’s more than one Mike Mercer. Nobody has this much time on his hands, except God.

      Not really wanting to provoke a messianic complex in you, Mike. Stay humble.

    • Heather Angus says

      Thanks and total respect. I will be getting this book.

  2. I’ll be buying this. My dad is 83 and suffers from Parkinson’s disease. This will be a help if he wishes to read it. If not it will be a help to me. Thanks Mike!

  3. OT for Mike the Geologist, don’t know if he’s on FB –

    • ” It existed forever as a kind of quantum potential before collapsing into the hot dense state we call the Big Bang.”
      Stuart, I’m not a physicist. Someone is going to have to explain to me what existing forever as a quantum potential means. I’m not exactly sure that is really existing, but hey, it’s way above my pay grade.

      • I had a physics major argue that line with me at a college meet-up once. [Actually, he called it “a quantum fluctuaion in nothingness.”] He couldn’t adequately explain what he meant by that, and I don’t consider myself to be that ignorant of physics. After a lot of going in circles, it finally seemed to me to be a stand-in for “I don’t know what happened, but it COULDN’T have been God, so I’ll try to make ‘something came out of nothing’ sound plausible by using physics terminology”.


        • Rick Ro. says

          The truth is (well, MY opinion of the truth is) that EVERYONE has their own magic wand for how things began. For us, it’s God. For the atheist, it’s Time. Apparently for others, it’s Quantum Potential.

          The problem is, most atheists/scientists don’t recognize that it takes just as much faith to believe in their version of the magic wand that it does to believe in our magic wand.

      • I found this on Formerly Fundie on Patheos, he goes into it a bit more there. Think the post is about two months old.

      • The way I’ve best understood it is in terms of potential energy. Fundamentally you have two different types of energy: kinetic (due to motion) and potential (due to position/interaction). Imagine a compressed spring: since it is at rest, it has no kinetic energy, but it does have potential (or “stored”) energy. Once released, this potential energy is converted into kinetic energy as it unleashes. By knowing the potential energy of the spring, you can then determine the dynamics of the spring thereafter (its motion, etc). “Quantum potential” is significantly more detailed and complex, but supposedly there is a similar interaction (field) beneath even the quantum level that determines how things like particles behave.

        It kind of falls into the category of “hidden variable theory”, namely that quantum mechanics is an incomplete theory and there must be some deterministic, underlying explanation we’re not aware of. QM may be a robust theory that very accurately explains what” happens, but it doesn’t really answer the “how”, nor can it make predictions with absolute certainty.

        • In terms of quantum fluctuations, according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the uncertainty in energy and time of a system cannot both be known to exact precision. The notion that energy can be “created” out of nothing as long as it’s done in a short enough period of time is just plain false. Energy is still conserved. Now, it is possible for virtual particles to be created over a very short period of time and then annihilate instantly, but even then it comes from somewhere (energy in the surrounding vacuum field). Regarding the creation of an entire universe out of nothing, well, that seems to raise quite a few flags. An entire universe? And what about the absence of space-time itself for the particle to pop into if there was none beforehand? Etc. It is possible there is a scientific explanation for the creation of our universe, but I don’t think we are close to it. And perhaps it is an answer that is far above our intellectual capacities–already we are coming to realize that notions as seemingly simple as time are far more complicated than we originally thought.

  4. David Cornwell says

    Mike, my thanks go out to you on so many levels. I really don’t know where to start. Marge, my wife, has Parkinson’s. She is 78. The past year has been a difficult one for us. Her illness seemed to take a sudden turn for the worse, as she lost physical mobility. Her memory of recent events comes and goes. Some days are better than others by a long shot. She still gets around by being careful. However it’s better if she does not cook! It’s up to me to arrange her meds, do the cooking, the laundry, most housekeeping, and the dishes. Add to this the care of about an acre of lawn.

    I was privileged to have been given an early copy of one of Mike’s little booklets “Guide them Safely Home, Lord: a Caregiver’s Companion.” Two evenings ago Marge picked it up, and read almost the entire book. I had no idea she was reading it until she said something like “Mike is an awfully good writer.” She was absorbed in the book. And so we have had some discussions about it since then.

    Marge has always been a kind and gentle person. It isn’t in her nature to complain. She just does what she needs to do to cope. Her illness has given to us a gift of closeness.I’ve had to give to her my undivided attention– something I’ve never done before in my entire life. It’s separated me from my selfishness in ways I’d never before imagined (I’m sure there’s more somewhere down deep). It’s bringing to fruition the love we pledged to each other in a Methodist Church before family, friends, and congregation many years ago.

    Mike talking about walking reminds me once again of one of the most important facets of my childhood and teen years. My brothers and I walked and walked and walked. On dirt roads, into the woods, on city streets, across the Ohio River bridge. We’d walk miles and miles. I still love walking, but my body doesn’t love it as much as before.

    I will be buying this book. As far as we know we aren’t near to the end yet. But at our age time does move along quickly.

  5. David, you are dealing well with things I would handle badly or worse than badly. Hats off! God’s strength and blessing fill you both.

  6. senecagriggs yahoo says

    A few years ago, my wife and I took an online longevity test. She dies at 104, I die at 69 [ the most probable explanation of my early demise is my willingness to eat gas station chili dogs. Yeah, I know ]. Well I’m only a couple of years away from 69 but I’m not apparently on the immediate road to death in the next couple of years; at least according to my G.P. HOWEVER, I’ve made a major work change where now I’m just a consultant working 25 hrs a week instead of a 50 plus hour-a-week professional and I now find myself with a lot of hours in the afternoon where I have very little to do. I’m puzzled, Frankly, I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t have a lot of energy and I really don’t have any particular goals other than making sure my wife is decently prepared financially when I pass. So I’m puzzled; not sure what my roll is anymore. I can no longer do some of the things I used to and I don’t really want to either. I’m much less active in the church than I used to be though I still love the people. Life! What’s it all about? Particularly the end game.

  7. The last year our family has seen dear loved ones make this long walk home. No matter if you are expecting it or it comes as a complete surprise. It can at times shake your faith. Once you walk through all the pain and the grief God points you back always to the power of the resurrection.