Upon hearing the word Death, what are your thoughts? In my mind I’m instantly taken to the wonderful fantasy book Mort, written by Sir Terry Pratchett who penned these words on the back cover, “Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.” The story is about a young boy who has been hired by the character Death to be an apprentice and all that that entails. It’s a great read, and thoroughly recommended.
However, I digress… Death does indeed come to us all… There’s a saying that there’s nothing so certain in life as death and taxes.
How do we deal with death, of friends and lovers, of those in our communities, whether they be through natural or sadly, tragic circumstances? How do we, or even do we, contemplate the inevitability that at some point our physical life on this earth will cease to be, where our bodies will once again be returned to the dust of the earth joining in with the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles of this biosphere?
Recently I attended the funeral of a colleague of mine who had been ill for a number of years with cancer. It was a very interesting experience for me as a pilgrim in the way of Jesus because I discovered when I sat down that it was a humanist funeral, the celebrant being a humanist. Uncertain what the experience would be, I listened with interest, attempting to discern the voice of the Divine in what others may see as a place completely devoid of anything spiritual. During the funeral we heard a mixture of voices from people whose lives had been impacted by the journey of my colleague throughout their life. I learned a great deal that I’d never knew about him as he was quite a private person who kept himself fairly bolted up in the science prep room at the school where we worked together. It was a life well spent, lived to the full and one that had indeed changed the lives of others there, with eighty percent of the people in a drama group he ran in his spare time now being involved in either professional dramatics groups or even writers for the Dr Who series. His life had left a positive legacy in the lives of those he had come into contact with. I may not have agreed about certain aspects of faith or beliefs, but we did have commonality in the humanity we shared and the longing to make the world a better place in the lives of those we encounter and interact with.
Was I left with hope when I left the funeral? In some sense, yes – for there are individuals who see that life is about what you do to sow good into other people’s lives whilst enjoying life yourself. But for me as someone who believes in the soul and the afterlife, I did wonder about the hope the person themselves had now they had moved from the bounds of the physical.
What, if any, hope is there in death? Release? Renewal? Rebirth? One of the most poignant scenes as I sat glued to the TV watching the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was a sequence to remember those killed in the 7/7 bombings of London. Emile Sandé sang the hymn “Abide with me” which contains a line which has stuck with me through every autumn since then – “Change and decay in all around I see”. As I look out of my lounge window I see the autumnal hues of orange and brown, and the occasional fungus poking its head above the surface of the soil, reminding me that even in the death and decay, there is the constancy of life however small that life may be, as the process of decay stores up nutrients for life once more.
For me, I read the Christian scriptures in conjunction with “God’s first book” – the universe to discover more about the Eternal One I worship. I see aspects of the Divine at work upholding everything and ensuring the seasons continue, giving me hope for the long, dark nights ahead. There is a verse in these scriptures which, given a modern translation, resonates with me greatly and upholds this hope:
“There’s the root [Jesus] of our ancestor Jesse,
breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”
This gives me hope that the seasons will continue and, come February there will be snowdrops appearing, followed by the daffodils and the land will once again be covered by a green mantle of the “God of Green Hope”. That resurrection power contained in Jesus when he rose from the dead and ascended to fill the entire universe with himself, underpins the whole of the land, and for me, Jesus really is the Green Man. And that resurrection power of Jesus gives me hope for a time I believe will once day come where I will be raised again to life, not to die again in a cycle, but to live forever in a land restored to a time of no more death, pain or suffering.
So, this week we’ll be exploring further the issues of death, with topics such as:
Dance in the Graveyards – The magic of remembrance.
Remembrance in other Countries – All Hallows / All Souls celebrations worldwide.
Opening the Veil – Death cafés and death doulas.
Immortality and Cyberspace – The power of cyberspace memorials.
Remembrance Meal – Rituals, including one we can take part in ourselves.
Wills and Legacies – a time of reflection on the week’s issue and to explore the legacy we may leave behind and encouragement for our life journey. It’s also a time to think about the potential of sorting out what we might physically leave behind to others.
Please feel free to dip into any of these subjects, which I know can be quite morbid, but I’m trying to put a much more positive aspect on the approach taken by Private Frazer in Dad’s Army, “We’re all doomed! Doomed!”
If you want to follow the conversations surrounding these topics, they’re all on the Facebook group “Marking Moments“. Please feel free to join the group and add to the discussions.