Friday, August 19, 2005

A Winter's Day

Boston, November 2004, Holy Cross.
I realize that I am approaching the winter of my life. My father in law has brought a sense of mortality to our household. We watch him plunge inexorably into the abyss of his disease. He will eventually be speechless and helpless, a 190 pound infant. He will die in the same state he was born in, absolute dependence on someone who might love him enough to care for him.

There is a cold beauty to death. It is the blessed curse, the end of life spent in the bleakness of corruption and struggle, futility and the stark, chilling cursedness of the consequences of human sin. It is also the leaving behind of beauty, the still-green signs of life and warmth and resurrection, of love. Its curse is that it confirms the solitariness we brought into the world through the breaking of our communion with God. Its blessing is that it ends the inexorable plunge into the abyss of corruption and defeat and loneliness. The winter never quite destroys all life, sin never quite destroys the image of God.

Yes, sin separates, its winter is a cold and lonely place. We sit in the snow, yet among the trees, in the cold and yet in the sun, alone, yet loved, waiting for this mortal seed to bear the fruit of eternal spring.


Meg said...

I comfort myself, when thinking about death, with the knowledge that at least when it occurs, I will no longer be able to sin.

*You* can comfort yourself with the knowledge that I'm older than you. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I learned from my grandmother the gift of making other people's giving possible, in God's sovereignty.

I hope when I'm that age I'll bless God no matter the case. Better practice now.

olympiada said...

"Its blessing is that it ends the inexorable plunge into the abyss of corruption and defeat and loneliness."
That must be why I have been longing for death for these last few months.

s-p said...

I understand. The desire for death is not "unspiritual". St. Paul says he desired to depart and be with Christ but for our sake he continued in life and ministry. The world legitimately has things we SHOULD desire to escape from, and death is the closing of the door on pain, futility, sorrow and sin. But the world also has things we legitimately need to embrace and nurture. There is love, sacrifice, the losing of self and learning to repent and live the life in love that God intended for us. These two need to exist in us in a precarious balance. We cannot become attached to the world as if it can give us everything and serve ourselves and forget God. Nor can we lose the godliness and goodness of our created life and commit suicide as an escape from tribulations for then death becomes self-serving. I lived for decades struggling to find the middle path. I do not fear death, I even desire it, but I also have learned to love what God has blessed me with in this life, even the trials and problems and frustrations. May Christ who is our life keep you in the center.

Elizabeth said...

s-p, this is unbelievably beautiful!
Do you write poetry ?

s-p said...

Hi Elizabeth,
I wrote poetry when I was in high school. I still have it in a notebook and I haven't looked at it for over 30 years now. Do I dare? :)

I do love poetic writing. There are a handful of authors out there that do it well without it sounding pretentious or forced (Louise Erdrich, Frederich Beuchner, Walter Wangerin are a few). It is something I aspire to do so,thank you.

Philippa said...

It is a holy time. Several years ago I sat with a 44 year old friend who was dying of terminal brain cancer. We talked about her 4 year old son, that she had no regrets in her life, that she didn't want to die because she would miss her son, her husband, her friends. But it was peaceful nonetheless. She died a couple days later. I was and still am so grateful to have walked that journey with her: being the first person she called to tell the diagnosis, taking her to treatment to be fitted for the radiation mask, chemo, fixing meals, shopping, whatever. It was a holy time.

Another friend has just been diagnosed with bone cancer. She is 44 as well. Another journey. Another holy time.

Anonymous said...

Philippa, you put a word to something that I felt when my mother died of cancer. It IS a holy time. I was with her when she departed, and I have never felt closer to God. The first thought that came to me was "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Although it was a sad time, I felt privileged to witness the mystery of death.
I ponder these words from the Akathist "Glory to God for All Things" as I take care of my Dad:
"How near art Thou in the day of sickness, Thou Thyself dost visit the sick; Thou Thyself dost bend over the bed of the sufferer whose heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace, unexpected consolation and comfort. Thou art the love which watches over and heals us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!"
And again...
"How often have I seen the reflection of Thy glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy. How ethereal, how translucent their faces. How triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon Thee. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that I may cry out to Thee: Alleluia!"
-Peggy, Steve's wife

olympiada said...

s-p thank you for commenting on my comment. there are many words you used that are good for me.
as far as your poetry goes, i belong to a writing blog that is always looking for new contributors, if you are interested. i have been posting poetry from my high school years on there.

Philippa said...


My dearest aunt has Alzheimer's. To watch the slow loss of who she is to that dreaded disease is often more than I can bear. But the further along she goes, the more tender I feel towards her. She prays constantly and though she notes the confusion and feels frightened, she leans on God more and more. She is far closer to Him and that in and of itself is a blessing. I feel her holiness and God's presence when I am with her.

Thank you for those words. They are a good reminder.

s-p said...

Hi Olympiada, ohhhh....I wish I had time to do all the writing I want to do. sigh....maybe I can learn to type faster. :)

Phillipa, I had a client whose husband had Alzheimers and it was painful to watch her as she dealt with his decline into total disconnection from his world and her. He lasted two years without recognizing her at all and cursed her when she visited. It was devastating. God bless you as you minister to your aunt.

Mimi said...

These are great posts, Steven-Paul and the commenters - Like Peggy, I've been at a death-bed and it was incredibly holy and I felt very close to God in those last moments.

The warmth of the room is indescribable.