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Thursday, December 11, 2008

I bought a grave today

Nothing exceptional in that of course but it rarely makes it to the top 10 of conversation starters at Christmas parties. In life we are surrounded by death and now can watch it unfold on our TV screens yet still for many this is psychologically still foreign and awkward territory. It’s the winter draught whistling under the ill fitting door. We know it’s there, we feel it but we try and ignore it. So, buying a grave was salutary; it put things into perspective once more. Monks can help us with this one I think. They live in the habit in which they will be buried ... straight into the earth without a coffin. Later their bones will be disinterred and kept in the monastery ossuary for all to see. This life is just a way station on the route to eternity, pleasant or unpleasant in its final destination. Again something we would prefer to ignore, the judgement. Perhaps it’s something we actively resist ... that there is a reckoning. All of which seemed rather distant from the soothing secular soft furnishings of the funeral home. Should Christians spoil the illusion? No, I think not. Life will do that eventually. We can do two things though. We can be prepared ourselves and we can be a sign of contradiction to those who sleep. We should remember that we are the only faith that places death and its resolution in God at the centre of life. We above all should be comfortable with the grave as an ordinary piece of consumer expenditure.


Steve Hayes said...

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in the promised land, but all they really possessed there was a grave, the caver of Machpelah.

Doorman-Priest said...

Are you ill, or just depressed?

Father Gregory said...

Neither. I find it conducive to my spiritual life from time to time to be aware of my mortality. This is a very common practice in many different religions of course, not only Christianity.

Rkbrookescyp said...

Fr Bill Schwartz of Qatar Anglican Church began a sermon in Famagusta last year saying, "We are eternal beings having a temporary human experience."

Anonymous said...

Re: I bought a grave today

This year, my wife and I, together with her sister and her mother, faced our first Christmas without her father since his death from cancer in February this year.

This year, the family of Steve Jeynes have faced their first Christmas without him since he took his own life after his dismissal by the so-called 'Orthodox' organisation, the St Stephen the Great Trust.

These deaths were not good deaths, and I for one do not think that I will ever be able to regard the grave "as an ordinary piece of consumer expenditure". Death is no gift, to be accepted with equanimity; not does it belong at the centre of life: it belongs firmly at life's end, even as it intrudes in life's midst.

Yes, at the natural end of a life well lived, death is right: to die old, "full of years" is a good thing. But too often, far too often, death is not so; it remains an intruder and a thief:

O Grave, where is thy victory?
O Death, where is thy sting?
Thy victory is ev'rywhere,
Thy sting's in ev'rything.

From: Studdert Kennedy, 'Missing--Believed Killed', The Unutterable Beauty

Yes, we do well to be aware of our mortality: like you buying a grave, my wife and I have recently written our wills, a salutary reminder of that mortality. But whilst we have life we do better to live it to the full. One day we hope to dance on death's grave with those who have gone before us — but for now: there is a fight to be won, against injustice, against oppression and against all those things that would bring premature death to our doors.

Father Gregory said...

I would only take a different line on the suggestion that awareness of mortality and fighting injustice might be alternatives. It has been my pastoral experience (and personal experience) that pride thrives when an awareness of the fragility and precious quality of life is occluded. Our culture is in deep denial about death ... or more properly speaking, suffering. I think we lose something human when we anaesthetise ourselves to pain. An awareness of our mortality and the Judgement can usefully correct the abuses of the “I can do anything approach” and I think that this has a direct bearing on those who inflict pain without a second thought and all forms of injustice.

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