The planned giving committee met today. It set me thinking a bit about death. This image from a church tomb reminded me of my own resistance to the conversation around death. Including the church in my will or estate plan means doing something which means facing my death. And of course death is not as much a worry to me as is dying. Dying can hurt or at least can be dull if one is immobilized.
The church deals with death well but not frequently. The cathedral does a stunningly beautiful and honest funeral. There is solemnity, beauty, hope and acknowledgment of real grief and loss. When the Kontakion is sung, as it is in all cathedral funerals, the cathedral goes into a beautiful trance and is given the permission to mourn, together.
Death, as in this image, is seen as a sentient entity in many societies. In English, the Grim Reaper has a name and this is one of the earliest 15th century images I saw one day in my wanderings in Rome. In scripture the Angel of Death is called Malach HaMavel or the Angel of dark and light which comes from the Jewish and Biblical lore. The Bible also calls it the angel of death and “Abaddon” or “the destroyer” or “the Angel of the Abyss. In Jewish lore he is characterized as the archangel Samael. If i had a black cat I would name it Samael just for fun. Cats frighten me. They seem to know stuff. Too much stuff.
Part of the problem is that Christianity, indeed the entire West, treats time in a linear way. It begins, proceeds and ends. In the East, time is circular which seems to resonate better with me and, if I am honest, with my understanding of the life into which Jesus is inviting us.
The scythe is not there to symbolize death but rather harvest or gathering. We are here for a very short time. If the history of the planet were a series of books, the human existence would be the final paragraph of the final chapter of the final book of a ten volume set of tomes.
This gives me some comfort. Life is short. Life can even be delicious for some of us. So my job is just to do the next right thing – make the next right choice. Death and new life will come. This knowledge and my acceptance of it lowers the stakes and heightens the hope. At least for me.
To hear the Kontakion, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYZ7YqIqm-w and advance past the ad by so clicking and then advance past two minutes of bells and texts to the sung Kpntakion to beautiful black and white photos. This is the song we sing at the cathedral in funerals.