Another Memo

Reminder to self and readers: It’s pivotally important that we reflect on and work out our theologies concerning death — but the time to do that is when things are going well, when the road’s pretty smooth. A time for grieving brings with it other tasks.

The medievals were not simply gloomy, morbid weirdos; the skull on a medieval desk reminds us of our mortality, and of our need to come to terms with mortality, at a time when grace offers us some measure of respite for reflection and prayer.

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  1. The Buddha advised us, in practicing mindfulness, to remember five things:

    • I am a human being, and it is in my nature to grow old. I cannot expect to avoid aging.
    • It is in my nature, as I age, to suffer pain – injury, disease, distress. I cannot expect to live free of pain.
    • It is in my nature, as one who lives, to die in time. I cannot expect to live forever.
    • I live in time, and it is in the nature of all things change in time. In time, I will be separated from all that I love and cherish. I cannot expect to keep those whom I love and that which I cherish through all time.
    • All that belongs to me is my actions, and it is in the nature of all action to have consequences. I cannot expect to avoid responsibility for my actions and their consequences. All that I am is grounded in my actions.

    Some see that meditation as a mark of pessimism. Realism is often confused with pessimism. I do not find the remembrances pessimistic, but bracing. What I do matters. Every day, each moment, I can act in such a way that no one is harmed by my actions, and some may be helped.

    To my mind, that is a more optimistic point of view than the typical theistic attitude that one’s actions are relatively inconsequential by comparison to what God decides to make happen. The idea that one can behave reprehensibly, in such a way to harm others, and that such actions can be forgiven and even blessed if they are done in the name of God – that idea is behind much of what devils our world. That makes me gloomy.

  2. Ash Wednesday reminded me that after a certain age, one has reminders of his or her mortality quite frequently, certainly more than just that somber day — these are all opportunities to recognize and deal with the fact that there is an end to the story of our lives on this earth.

    But that said, I am not sure that others’ deaths ever become easy to accept. In fact, as we age, I think it gets harder to accept the death of folk around us.

  3. “The medievals were not simply gloomy, morbid weirdos.”

    Oh, c’mon AKMA! They were at least a little bit gloomy, morbid weirdos.

    I know it’s so because I saw The Name of the Rose! Oh, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail; though Jabberwocky is probably more gloomy, morbid and weird.

    “I’m not dead yet!”

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