Presently in God-School I am taking the course called ‘Death’ or better named ‘Death Etc.’
The first semester was in spring, when my mother-in-law died. I audited that course.
I have now nearly finished (I think) another semester. This one came complete with work experience and a practicum as I accompanied my mom, just a month ago, through the Valley of Death.
The last month has taken me through a series of lessons some of which are ‘What is worthwhile in life,’‘The value of things,’ and ‘What it means to be vapor, grass, a shadow.’ Even Pastor’s sermons have been part of the curriculum. In the past two Sundays he has delivered a sermon series on Heaven (I, II).
One of my textbooks has been Mark Buchanan’s Things Unseen, which I finished reading yesterday afternoon. Here are some points – cram notes, if you will – from one of the last chapters: ‘Big Deal.’
“Don’t let an event as important as death take you by surprise” (a quote by Margaret Kim Peterson, commenting on a consensus of Christian thinkers from Basil the Great in the 4th century to Jeremy Taylor in the 17th) (p.202).
To prepare for a good death doesn’t mean that you live for death. It is not a death wish – a longing for or fascination with morbidity. Rather it means to live life so that death comes as a completion, not for life, for life to the full (p. 203).
Being aware of death makes us more aware of life. It keeps our appetites healthy, our wonderment sharp. It winnows clutter from our life.
A numbered day (Psalm 90:12) is one lived in attentiveness and thankfulness, one we’ve named, received, entered....We learn to number our days aright by thinking about our death....Only a steady gaze at the brevity and frailty of our own existence can snap us out of the monotony of unnumbered days (p. 204).
News of our mortality helps us see things in their right proportion, their real shape, their true meaning. Shattering defeats, spectacular triumphs – neither is quite what it seems when viewed from the graveyard. And the often staggering but mostly hidden value of ordinary things – food, light, warmth, life – shines through....
Here’s the gist: Death, carefully pondered, resolutely faced, actually looses its grip on us, its deadlock on our imaginations. It can wholly reawaken holy wonder (p. 205).
– Mark Buchanan - Things Unseen
It’s important, I think, to pay attention to and keep up with these lessons. I need to review the notes, learn the principles, and put them into practice in my life. For I do not know when the final exam will come for me, if it will be posted so that I know its probable date ahead of time, or if it will be sprung on me as unexpectedly as a pop quiz.
Photo: Serpentine River and the King George Highway bridge - from the path at Ducks Unlimited.