There has been a lot to think about recently. The imminent passings of Terry Schiavo, Pope John Paul II, and my sinful self (Forgiveness Sunday ... yes YOU ALL celebrate Easter on the wrong date) have been on my mind for at least the last two weeks. So much has been said so well, that I will not pretend to have anything to add, specifically on the life of the Pontiff, who surely falls in the short list of greatest men of this century, and perhaps the Greatest Christian Leader my generation will see. [[On that note, I would be interested to hear the personal reactions of my evangelical friends: sad event, happy event, etc.]]
Ran On. Back to subject. Because this has been on my mind, I was surprised yesterday to awake with great joyful anticipation. I was able to relax and have more joy playing with my daughter than I think I have experienced in at least two months. (This is not counting the screaming fit that I was in charge of at 4:30 a.m.)
Today my Beloved and I explored the very large park behind our home, to a greater extent than we have done before. It was a sublime day: idyllic spring weather. High clouds, stunning deep blue, smell of recent rain, slightly muddy trails, clear air, distant sea, song birds, soaring hawks, bees, wildflowers. Hills. I got to hike 2 miles longer than the others (we forgot about the car ... don't ask), and it gave me a chance to think in the way that is natural to me.
It is my goal as a father, and eventually will be as a teacher, to teach others how to die well. To do this one must have a dual approach: to teach how to live, and to hold up as models those who have also died well.
For the Christian, dying is the beginning of life. Dying is the opening of our eyes and soul. It opens to us the Undiscovered Country. If it is life actualized, then by learning life we will prepare ourselves for it. But this is where things get confusing.
The one element that is of course the most important and least mentioned is that to live one must die. Here, I realized, is the mystery of Christian teaching on life. Here is why those who demand life for themselves have produced a "culture of death", while those who demand the acceptance of death to themselves produce the "culture of life." The Christian does not fear death because he has truly died already in baptism.
This is why baptism MUST be sacramental, and why it MUST initiate entry into the covenantal life of the Church.
The Christian parent teaches their children about life by showing them the true meaning of death, and the waking death that is called suffering. In the Antiochian Vespers, Psalm 104 is always read at the beginning of prayer. I quote the last half of the Chapter:
19. He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
20. Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
21. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
22. The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
23. Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
24. O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
25. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
26. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
27. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
28. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
29. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
30. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
31. The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.
32. He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
33. I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.
35. Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the LORD, O my soul. Praise ye the LORD.
There is too much here to provide a detailed analysis--and I have used too many words to say too little already, but note especially v. 29 to the end. All die, and then they are created by His Spirit. My mind stuck here for the entireity of the service.
The Sustainer of Life, and Lord of Creation brooks no rival in any corner of His creation: not the Leviathan in the sea, nor sin in the heart of man.
Die, O my soul. Repent, Die, and Live.