“Abba Evagrius said, ‘Sit in your cell, collecting your thoughts. Remember the day of your death'”
Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p 63: 1
“Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.”
Rule of St Benedict, 4: 47 (Ed. Timothy Fry OSB)
We were nearing the end of a Home group session where we’d been thinking and talking about Patience, part of the fruit of the Spirit-filled life. As she summed up and focussed our thoughts towards prayer, our leader had a question for each of us: “Is there a particular area of your life that’s requiring a lot of patience on your part at the present time?”
Two of us in the room are in our 60s. He spoke about adjusting work/life balance and finding a way to ‘retire’ from work as a self-employed person.
I suggested that at my stage in life there were lots of areas where I was needing to be more patient with others and with myself. I talked about beginning to make planned adjustments and trying to think in advance about some of the implications of the aging process. I also mentioned that I was doing a lot more thinking about what is one of our culture’s major taboos, my inevitable death.
This subject is guaranteed to be a show-stopper…the home group leader was thankful for my reflective nature.
Even for a believer, death can be unsettling and final…not in terms of how we die (although that may well be a cause for worry) but in terms of the break with the life we’ve lived in this world (assuming that we won’t consider the end of life on planet Earth to be a blessed relief).
I had recently come across this beautiful piece in the writings of Paula Huston, and American Benedictine oblate also in her early 60s, in her book A Season of Mystery ( Loyola Press, Chicago 2012). Much as I’d like to reproduce it all, I’m sharing just a small extract of the writing which begins the final chapter of the book…go out and get your own copy, it is worth it (and I’m not on commission)!
“Meanwhile, we begin our long good-bye to what we have loved most. And this is never easy. It shouldn’t be, for what we have loved here on earth is precious beyond compare. The parents who adored us. The stout-hearted partner or best friend who has seen us at our weakest and our worst, yet still cherishes our existence. The siblings or childhood companions who have known us since we were downy-cheeked grade-school kids, arguing in the sandbox…
…We are bidding farewell to our blue and beautiful planet, with its vast seas and green forests and towering masses of light-rimmed clouds. We are saying goodbye to mountains, redwoods, rivers, herds of caribou and pods of whales. We are letting go of the night sky and the great white lamp of the moon, the fields and fields of poppies in the spring…
…Life, with all its sins and sorrows, has truely been a wondrous gift. As we begin to see the end approach, it’s no wonder we become pensive.”