Life and Death

Life and Death in Black and White by David Boyd, Jr

James 4:13-14 (NRSV)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why, in a world full of mayhem, disasters, and death in every city (spent much time in hospitals lately?) are people so shocked by death? I can think of a reason — because God has placed in our hearts the expectation that life will go on, despite all the contrary evidence. God has placed eternity in our hearts. – Ben Witherington, from his blog The Bible and Culture

Funerals are as much collective meditations as tearful goodbyes to one person. We use the departed life as a lens to assess our own. – Catherine Porter, Shelagh was Here

Preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do.
Thinking about death clarifies your life.
Candy Chang, Before I die, I want to…

Death helps us to see what is worth trusting and loving and what is a waste of time.
– J. Neville Ward

Jesus calls us to gratitude. He calls us to recognize that gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living

What do we say, that God has chosen this one and not that one? Or that God is not paying attention, that God is too busy spinning galaxies to notice our little lives and we’re on our own, good luck? No, the mystery is that the Holy One who holds the universe in strong and gentle hands also holds us, and cares for us, and accompanies us. The Beloved is with us. In death or life, joy or sorrow, the Compassionate One walks with us, breathes in us, suffers with us, and gives us the life we have. And that life, that amazing gift, is holy, precious and worthy of our wonder, no matter how long or pretty it is. Our range of vision is so often limited to our desires— how fully we manage to cling to what we want and avoid what we fear— that we can’t see our lives from the perspective of the heavens: the sacred Oneness that our lives rise out of, the holy miracle of life in each moment, the magnificent mystery of which each of us is a spark, a blossom, a note. The promise is not that your life will be long or easy, but that it will be holy. – Steve Garnaas-Holmes, That Thou Art Mindful

The grain of wheat when it is put into the ground dies; do we mean that it ceases to be? Not at all. What is death? It is the resolution of anything possessing life into its primary elements. With us it is the body parting from the soul; with a grain of wheat it is the dissolving of the elements which made up the corn. Our divine Lord when put into the earth did not see corruption, but his soul was parted from his body for a while, and thus he died; and unless he had literally and actually died he could not have given life to any of us. – Charles Hadden Spurgeon, Farm Sermons

I am always dying, with each breath that enters and leaves my body, with each second and the hundreds of thousands of cells that are dying off to make room for more, with each toss of the football to my vigorous and growing son. And may I keep dying so life may abound. Thanks be to God! – Todd Weir, Blooming Cactus

2 Corinthians 4:10-11 (NRSV)
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

Within a few years (five, 10, 20, or 30) I will no longer be on this earth. The thought of this does not frighten me but fills me with a quiet peace. I am a small part of life, a human being in the midst of thousands of other human beings. It is good to be young, to grow old and to die. It is good to live with others and to die with others. God became flesh to share with us in this simple living and dying and thus made it good. I can feel today that it is good to be and especially to be one of many. What counts are not the special and unique accomplishments in life that make me different from others, but the basic experiences of sadness and joy, pain and healing, which make me part of humanity. The time is indeed growing short for me, but that knowledge sets me free to prevent mourning from depressing me and joy from exciting me. Mourning and joy can now both deepen my quiet desire for the day when I realize that the many kisses and embraces I received today were simple incarnation of the eternal embrace of the Lord himself.
– Henri Nouwen reflecting on his 50th birthday in Gracias! A Latin American Journal

Having passed another birthday last week, I am aware of the linear nature of life: it proceeds in one direction, and will never come this way again. But the solstice reminds us that it is also cyclical. Maybe we move in a spiral. Maybe time is neither strictly circular nor linear, but cumulative, like rings of a tree. We don’t leave the past behind; we add to it. Life is past and future mingled in the present: life and death, attaining and losing, suffering and deliverance, summer and winter, each present, each passing. Therefore even death is not final. There is always more life. Always. Even in the summer of your life, winter is working. Even as life is growing in you, so is death. Be mindful of both life and death. Honor them both, for they are both blessed.
– Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Solstice

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you,
Everything is fleeting, God alone is unchanging.
Patience will obtain everything.
The one who possesses God, wants for nothing.
God alone suffices.
– Teresa of Avila

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Click here for a tremendous message on the culture of death and the gospel of life by Bishop Ken Carter entitled Ashes: An Outward and Visible Sign. 

For further reflection, consider T.S. Eliot’s poem East Coker from The Four Quartets

For more information on the art, scripture translations and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

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