Monday, November 02, 2009

A Life Well Lived, Or....

...a death well died.

Well, once again the theme of death seems to come to the forefront after my Father's brush with his mortality last weekend.

Today "rightwingprof" who comments here is in the hospital fighting for his life. Inside of a week what was pain in his legs was discovered to be a body riddled with tumors.

Today a client that I've known for years is trying to decide whether or not to finish his last round of chemo-with-no-guarantees. He retired a multi-millionaire and a couple months later found out he had an incurable cancer and 6 months to live. I called him a few weeks ago and asked how he was doing and he said, "Not too bad for a chemistry experiment."

Most of us could multiply such stories and the irony of timing, mystery of circumstances and depth of tragedy. Such is life. Such is death.

Outside of putting one's self purposefully in harms way, how we live seems to have little bearing on what kills us and when. Neither life nor death is fair. Bacon eating smokers and drinkers live to be 100, vegan runners die at 30. The randomness of how people die and from what has no discernible relationship to their relative morality, type of faith or religion, philosophy or "niceness". Trekkies may give you Mr. Spock's Vulcan blessing "Live long and prosper", but in the end it is merely an incantation, much like "Have a nice day", or even "God bless you". In the end well wishes are shorthand for our unarticulated acknowledgement of the fact that people die young and destitute, the days are fraught with evil, and the need for control outside of ourselves of a hostile cosmos that seems to be hell-bent on killing us off in more random, surprising and horrific ways than six sequels of "Saw".

A Christian's life may or may not be as moral or healthy or happy or even "blessed" as the atheist's. Evangelism based on God "one upping" lifestyles that lack irony, tragedy and poverty is doomed to attract only the deluded and desperate and can only end in either deeper delusion and ultimately in despondency. The Christian Gospel requires a life of self restraint, sanctity and love for one's neighbor, but the Gospel does not claim that any of it is a talisman against the cosmic assault on our bodies and souls. The Christian is not called to overcome life, but himself. He is not called to live long and prosper, but to live well and be content in any state. He is not called to have a nice day, but as the Psalmist says, to offer up all days wherein we saw evil to God with thanksgiving. And in the end the Gospel points us to consider the randomness of life and the ultimate injustice: death.

Death is more real than life. Life is like the water the fish swim in. We don't think much about it unless something points us to our frailty, powerlessness and mortality. A split second encounter with death can change an entire 80 years of life. Life can be hypnotic, but death is the snap of the fingers that brings us out of all self made illusions.

In the end, the Gospel is about the overcoming of the power of death so that we may live without the illusion that a "good life" has any correspondence to a "life well lived". A life well lived is one lived without fear, in faith that no matter what life does to us, good or evil, and no matter how or when we die in the end all will be well, all will be well. A death well died is the final witness to whether we lived well or merely lived good.

As I wrote this the theme of death came up on several other blogs:

The Ochlophobist has a pithy blog post on Christian funerals HERE
(also read the link to John's excellent travelogue post on Texas graveyards).

And Sophocles has a reflection on death and the funerals of a nihilist punk rocker and a saint HERE

And today is Dia Del Muerto (The Day of the Dead) in the Mexican culture. I love the art.


elizabeth said...

Lord have mercy.

Yes, death does shatter our illusions of a long life or of life remaining the same with sunsets and sunrises.

But Christ has killed death and one day I pray we will also, as my priest says, be experiencing Pascha all the time... May the Lord so have mercy.

Ashley Siferd said...

Thanks for the insight. I enjoyed reading this post very very much, for more reasons than I think I even know.

Sophocles said...

Excellent and sobering thoughts.

Fr. Christian Mathis said...

There have been more funerals in the parish this week than I would ever want. I celebrated one on Sunday for an old friend, one this morning for a man I hardly knew....and just returned home from the hospital where I prayed with the family of a man who just died.

It is certainly a mystery, but one to be embraced, knowing that God's grace conquers death.

Fr. Christian Mathis said...

also....check out my blog tomorrow if you can to see something new I am trying out!