Friday, January 27, 2012

Death Comes Unexpectedly?

In the middle of life it happens that death comes and measures a man. The visit is forgotten and life continues. But the suit is made, quietly.” (Thomas Transtromer, Swedish Poet)

Many of us remember that scene of Karl Malden acting as Reverend Ford in the 1960 movie "Polyanna," preaching an abridgement of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

This powerful message reminds us of the suddenness with which death comes, and Transtromer reminds us that death has already sized us up.

"The Universe does not know we are here," Harlan Ellison says. It just grinds on and on and on and we are in the midst of the machinery--just don’t get caught in the mechanism. The Universe is not a personality; but, as Ellison echoes Twain in another assumption: something is wrong with the Universe! What is wrong is death. Did God make a screwed up machine? Is God a monster? If so, then why is the Universe still idolized? Death was not part of God’s design but a consequence of a decision made in response to The Creator (Ellison and others admit there is a Creator, they just doesn’t like it when He speaks). Now, death is here sizing us up and quietly making what is coming to each and every one of us.

Strange how we say death is sudden or unexpected when each person knows their day is coming. We say it is unexpected because we would rather not face death. One-time events like this are difficult to comprehend; yet, our life began with a one-time event and we have no difficulty (in a manner of speaking). Since birth, life has become fixed around culture and tradition and idea and relationships and practice and doctrine and survival, which ultimately leads to THAT end, at the end. How can we not see it coming?

There are proper and improper ways of viewing death. Every proper way, no matter what culture dictates, acknowledges its presence. John Donne reminds us when we lay down to rest or sleep we foreshadow what is coming, the day approaching when we will lay down and not rise up again. Donne also reminds us death is not to be feared, so death has no reason to be proud for a day is coming when death itself will die. That in itself is a marvelous truth and should be a release.

Death was not included in the design of the Universe, so within the Universe death too, will come and go. Death will become history, a memory not mourned but celebrated as a defeated foe.

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