Death is Real, Not Poetic
September 18, 2012
Excerpt from Colossians 3:1-11
"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
Reflection by Donna Schaper
In his poem appropriately named "Sunday Morning," Wallace Stevens says, "Death is the mother of beauty." What he means is that limitation and inevitable loss infuse the living moments with their beauty. Fair enough. If life were endless, I would not care so much about learning how to grow sweet peas. Because life is not endless, I know I only have 80 or so - max - seasons in which to try. Stevens also refers to the "complacencies of the peignoir," and "coffee and oranges in a sunny chair." He wants us to be grateful to death for helping us enter the moment. Death may be the mother of beauty but it is also the thief of beauty. Death is real, not poetic.
Hospice chaplains love to tell us what their days are like. Instead of being dramatic encounters with universal truths, hospice chaplains are often sent out to find the kind of chewing gum that the dying person really likes. Or to play cards. Or to stare out windows. The last hours for many people are long, boring, incoherent, yielding to a kind of blurry unconsciousness, not a heightened consciousness. The dying may want to set their minds on things above but they join Stevens in matters regarding oranges or sweet peas.
What makes the most sense in this text is that word "hidden." We are to set our minds on larger things, like poetry, or Christ, or oranges held up to a glimpse of immortality. But we probably won't. And that is when we will find ourselves once again, hidden in the incarnation of the higher and lower, the human and the divine, the eternal so skillfully embedded in the ordinary.
Blessed Jesus, Son of Human and Son of God, you who hide death in life and life in death for us, draw near and let our living and our dying resemble yours. Amen.
About the Author
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Check out her blog, Grace at Table, at donnaschaper.com.
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