The Spirituality of Illness – contemplating one's death

I guess we don’t spend too much time contemplating how we might meet our end. Life itself is often too pressing, too enjoyable, too distracting? But when we stop we realise there are endless possibilities for how it might happen. An inexplicable accident perhaps. Or maybe some witch’s brew bubbling away in our system undetected, which will eventually overflow in tragedy.

One of the unpalatable realities of the last year has been that though my condition is curable, and there is no medical reason why I can’t enjoy a long and and productive life, there is a very clear alternative. There is an increased possibility now that some heart complication will prove my ultimate undoing. The reality is that once the diagnosis was confirmed it also helped frame a potential future. Thus I know for sure my dodgy heart is more likely to be a cause of death. I live with a greater degree of knowledge of how I might exit the scene.

Yet I am blessed by the measure of healing I have had. There are others who live with much greater certainty of the means of the end.

This morning in a bible study with some friends we talked at length about the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. We talked long of Jesus’ expressions of deepest grief, how he was overcome, and we asked why?. Yes, perhaps he cried over the damage done by Death to his good creation. Yes, perhaps he also cried over the grief of his friends.

But did he also cry because it brought home to him the closeness of his own death? Did his instruction to roll away the stone, cause an echo in his own head of his own fate? Did the call to take off the graveclothes give him an idea of what he would do with his own grave clothes on that resurrection morning? Did the reality of death strike him in a very personal way?

I have contemplated death more often in recent months. Not because I feared it particularly, or even just because I have more knowledge of it. But in part because I have had to face my own mortality and what I should do in my remaining time. And I have found that Christianity’s contemplation of death has a very honourable history. Indeed it is seen as a necessity to healthy living in the here and now.

For me, I have had to face honestly the fact that any dreams that might remain of being The Guy are probably past now. And celebrating my last birthday confirmed it! I am in the autumn of my days. But that need not be the end (see my previous post!). That does not mean that my contribution is done. It just changes. In fact it can be the spur to finish well, how ever far into the future that finish may lie, (and I’m kinda hoping it will be a LONG time). The contemplation of the end, in the context of Christian eschatology, can be extraordinarily creative.

I may never be The Guy, but could I be the guy that The Guy goes to? (apologies to the West WIng). What about the remainder of a life spent for those younger, mentoring them and supporting them along this narrow way?

So I ask, I keep asking, how should I spend what remains?

[image from here]

3 thoughts on “The Spirituality of Illness – contemplating one's death

  1. Hadn’t thought of Jesus’ expression of grief in that way before, interesting point. Although it is a cliché that life passes by quickly, the reality of its speed is scarily obvious at times. Sitting at a retirement dinner as someone’s whole career is shown on PowerPoint is one of those. To even think it was nearly a year ago you started mocking birds leap! there is a fear of getting to 80 or 90 and looking back wishing that all that time could have been spent ‘walking with God’ and working in partnership with him.

  2. Yes- the man with the scythe tends to be close after heart surgery!! But one tends to push him away and get on with it. It’s now 9 years since I had my heart attack and I’m still fit and well, thank God. We are in His hands and He has our days numbered- so keep pressing on towards the goal.

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