We forget this all the time. Perhaps as we get older, we’re a little less oblivious and proud about it, but I don’t think we truly understand the fragility of our existence. Most people who start off essays like this have some sort of axe to grind; I don’t, at least not about this, but I was reminded by something I read.
Some of us will be blessed enough that we will have time to prepare for our death. We will know that it is coming soon, and our loved ones will know that the usual preparations and decisions must be made with a certain alacrity. Some of us will be old and full of years. Some of us will be completely surprised.
With apologies to the great American philosopher Tim McGraw, it’s actually pretty hard to live like we are dying. It’s emotionally exhausting. And what does it mean? Does it mean that we seek as much pleasure out of life as we could possibly extract? Even if we should say something spiritual, like “living in the present moment,” that is in tension with preparing for death. Of course, a spirituality of the present moment is geared toward not death, but eternal life. Cultivating an awareness of God’s presence, and his care for us, even in the most mundane things.
I started this with a fear that it would morph into an amorphous ode to minimalism, based upon the essay linked above. Yet if we actually read that, it wasn’t so much about having less stuff, as it was about having an awareness of what our stuff means about ourselves. On the other hand, it is a practical consideration: don’t leave your loved ones to clean out whole buildings of useless stuff.
I was also challenged to think about what things I own might be considered special to someone else, maybe someone I haven’t even met yet. I don’t have any antique typewriters (yet), but I own a lot of books, and most of those physical books I will probably never pick up again. I’ve been introduced to audiobooks, and I doubt I will ever go back. If some preteen or teen comes by, and wants my copy of 100 Years of Solitude, he or she is welcome to it.
Of course, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, coupled with the resurrection of all the dead at the end of history, means that death itself is changed. It’s still stark, and sad in itself, but it is fair to say that the promise of 1 Corinthians 15 indeed is that death has lost its sting. Death has lost its fearful finality, in the hope of the resurrection. I know this, but like I said when we started, I can’t claim to have been thinking about it often, or all this time. Perhaps that is another gift of the Christian liturgy; there are things it inculcates in us we are not consciously aware of all the time.
In a sense, that is the great privilege of a relationship with God the Holy Spirit, because he groans and asks for things from Christ and from the Father that we would never think to ask, and are not conscious all the time of having asked for. There is of course a close relationship between the liturgy, and the Holy Spirit, but that is probably for another column.
Some theologians have said that good Christian worship is child’s play, and that got me thinking: I remember when I reviewed The Seventh Seal here at Open for Business, and I recall that when Death comes for the characters, they sing and dance, as if playing Ring around the Rosie. Now there’s a thought to contemplate: dancing and laughing in the face of death. It makes me think we are either lunatics, or children, and depending upon the situation, a mixture of both.
There is a forgetfulness in child’s play; there is a freedom in knowing that someone else is looking out for us. I think that’s part of why Jesus tells us that we have to become like little children, to enter the kingdom of heaven. The gospel is many things, but it is definitely trusting that someone else is taking care of us. We do not fear, because in a real sense, we never had the ability to be in control of our lives. If human beings were not made for God, and the fulfillment of their purpose did not consist in enjoying God, then to live, to die, and to cease to exist would be the best case scenario for all people. I remain surprised that anyone believes this outcome could be optimistic.
I guess it all circles back to God, because if he is the Master of life and death, then I can hope and rejoice in His goodness, while I wait for the mysterious conclusion of my earthly journey. There is difficulty certainly in contemplating death and God, without being fully assured of God’s goodness. I suppose all I can say is that we should actually spend the rest of our days ready to be convinced and assured of God’s goodness. Faith is also many things, but it consists in a loving trust in God’s goodness, and may it produce in us a ready willingness to seek the mercy that reflects His goodness to sinners and children like us.