Posts tagged ‘death’

November 2, 2012

Autumn

Autumn is a time of mixed emotions. Perhaps the American term ‘Fall’ is more appropriate; we witness the death of summer, multiple hues of green, life, growth, hope and future are cut short, greens become browns, life becomes death.  Growth is halted, cut short, heat gives way to coldness, the sun lowers its arc across the sky, the light changes becoming more silvery and less intense, shadows become longer, the sweet scents and smells of summer give way to dank and damp, moss and mould.

And yet there is a glory to it all. Perhaps it is rather a sleep than a death. Nature is shedding her skin, her demise only skin deep, yet the resurrection of spring none the less impressive in the burst of new life that arises out of the ashes of winter.

Photographs are stories and these mobile phone snaps like sketches on the page, giving a glimpse of that great saga of the seasons we inhabit year by year our whole life long.

Yet the Autumn chapter in the book-of-the-seasons story is surely a God-given reflection or analogy of that greatest story of all; a tale of a birth like no other, life in all its fullness, a death that was beyond darkness and of a resurrection and spring of new hope that would point us to the glorious future of the summer to come that lies beyond the shores of this life in a greater country and place, where there shall be no more pain, death or dying but only the fullness of joy in the presence of our Lord and Saviour, Master and Friend:

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end.

A Prayer of John Donne (1572-1631)

May 5, 2012

Fading away

As I looked at this photo taken yesterday at Inchydoney I was reminded of the verse:

“People are like grass;
their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades…”

At times it seems that all around us are reminders of the transient and fragile nature of life.  To see deteriorating health in those that were once so strong, whether people or animals, can be a difficult thing to have to deal with. I never cease to be in awe of those who face death with both great courage and deep peace. I wonder how I would react if I was addressed with that awful doctor’s euphemism, “I think you should get your affairs in order”?  I’d like to think it would be a spiritual experience and maybe it would, but I’m sure too that I would scrape and rebound through each of the  ‘the five stages’, Denial & Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and perhaps (God willing) finally Acceptance.

The destination is perhaps what shapes the journey most of all. If I were an atheist I would ponder the dissolution of myself to nothing, if I were an agnostic I simply wouldn’t know what to think, but as one who stumbles, trips and hobbles after the Lord Jesus, I know that He is the way, the truth and the life.

The verse I quoted at the beginning is from 1 Peter 1:24.  The verse that goes before it reads:

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.

Yes this life is fleetingly fragile, but new life in God, that is something different altogether.  Perhaps we don’t fade away after all and for the one who puts their faith and trust in Christ, death is not just an ending, but a new beginning.

December 20, 2011

“Upon another shore…”

Gullanes Sunset

The Sun setting yesterday.  

You may recognise the words in the title as part of the ‘bidding prayer’ at the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The full paragraph reads:

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in the Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

Beautiful words, but do they stand up?  I think that they do, which is all the more amazing because standing up to the the full blast of darkness that is death is some achievement.  The words are of course inspired by Scripture, (from John chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 19 in particular).

Why has this come to my mind?  In the last few days, three people I know have died.  All of them as it were ‘went before their time’, their lives cut short through illness or disease and one, the mother of young children.  It is heartbreaking.

In trying to respond I realise that any words I have to say are wholly insufficient.  I recall some words written by C.S. Lewis in his overwhelming book, ‘A Grief Observed’:

And we think of this as love cut short; like a dance stopped in mid career or a flower with its head unluckily snapped off – something truncated and therefore lacking its due shape…

I suppose that we only have a limited view now, not only of death but even more so of that Life which follows.  The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God wrote:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

One day it will make sense, and this knotted, tangled, painful life of fragility and contradictions will find its shape – even the shape of the Cross, where even God was not free of the pain and anguish of death.  To paraphrase Tony Campolo – ‘Yes it’s Friday now, but Sunday is coming…’

October 19, 2011

Letting go…

I came across this wonderful sculpture on a recent walk around Bantry.  Nearby is a plaque which reads:

The Spirit of Love

In remembrance of those who lost their lives in the waters of Bantry Bay.

Peace, kind reader, do not cry
Nor pass not, pass not quickly by
Surely we shall meet again
No more to part, no more to die
Saviour of the mighty sea
Let us find repose in Thee.
(Written by Donal Fitzgerald)

Artist’s note

This sculpture expresses the compassion of the people of Bantry and Ireland for men, women and children of all races and creeds who lost their lives in this bay.

The two figures convey love, loss, anguish, forgiveness, peace, reaching, letting go…

Paddy Campbell, 2006

Hmm, two posts now about loss.  Sometimes people ask me how I cope with all the loss and pain I come across in visiting homes around the parish.  The answer is that I talk about it with God in the place of prayer, I talk about those aspects that are not confidential with my better half and usually in some kind of abstract way it comes out in this blog too…

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 15:57, NLT)

October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs

(Screenshot from the Apple website this morning)

I first learnt about this remarkable man when, after becoming increasingly frustrated with my failing (Windows) computer, I decided it was time to start dreaming about replacing it.  I came across ‘an apple event’ online, which was a video stream of Jobs unveiling the new iMac G5 (with built in ‘isight’) in 2005 – I was hooked.  Of course that was the point, Jobs was a brilliant salesman, but his task was an easy one because Apple products then and now both looked and worked like a dream.  There was a small problem however, the iMac cost just over €1,000, money I did not have.  It took another three years before I had enough to buy an Apple computer and of course with all that waiting and anticipation one would naturally assume that the reality would be a let down, but it wasn’t.  Even though I could have bought two cheap computers running Windows or Linux for the price of the IMac I am convinced to this day that the purchase was worth it because I have now had nearly four years of trouble free computing!

Few people actually knew Steve Jobs very well, which is why his official biography (to be released later this month) will sell in vast numbers.  A popular video of Steve on the internet is where he is addressing the graduates at Stanford University in California (link).  In this speech he reveals a little of his philosophy about life, about living each day as if it were your last and lots of other inspiring thoughts, challenges and ideas.

In speaking about the effect of being diagnosed with Cancer he said:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

and:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

These are not the words of a stereotypical CEO of one of the largest Corporations in the world, they are the words of someone who has stared death in the face and lived a little longer to tell the tale.  Many many people around the world, including myself, are saddened at this mans death, but we are grateful for his life and for what he was able to do and to achieve.  I think I am right in saying that Steve was a Buddhist, though the words quoted above remind me of so much that Jesus said during his earthly ministry, about living for each day (Matthew 6:25, 34) and not storing up things in this life (Matthew 6:19,20) and the words of comfort Jesus spoke to his disciples in John 14.

In being reminded by Steve Jobs of my own mortality, I am grateful to him for this far more than for the numerous Apple products that I enjoy using each day.  All of us will have to face death one day and few of us will manage to do so with the clarity, dignity and composure of Steve Jobs.  Therefore I also have a renewed gratitude that I am and we are not on my /our own in all of this; I am grateful beyond words that in Jesus all of us have someone to look up to who has stared death in the face – and won.

Steve Jobs 1955-2011, may he rest in peace.

September 19, 2011

Rust

Looking at this rusty old bit of metal that forms part of the sea defences at Red Strand, one can’t help but be struck with a new appreciation of the powerful forces of nature. The sea never gives up; day after day, year after year and for millennia. Metal, concrete and stone do not stand a chance, it may take its time, but the sea will conquer in the end.

I don’t know what obstacles you have in your life, but even though they might seem immovable and adamant in their permanence, there is a Force that is altogether greater…

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Mark 13:31

This past few days I’ve had the privilege to spend time with three people in the last hours of their life and then to do the funerals of two of them.  It is impossible not to be affected by this experience, which is both a huge honour and privilege.  It affects me differently each time but perhaps this last week I have been able to understand things from an eternal perspective more; that this life is little more than a preparation, a beginning for that life which is to come.  In the midst of all this we have a God, an awesome God who is always there and who does not change.  He is with us in life and He is with us in death and He is with us in that life which is to come.

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12)

November 18, 2010

Harbouring?

Courtmacsherry Harbour

This was Courtmacsherry harbour last week as we waited for “The Storm”. It’s strange how the word “harbouring” seems (to me at least) to have negative connotations. We hear about someone “harbouring criminals” or someone “harbouring” bad thoughts or bitterness / resentment in their hearts, which is of course something that we need to be aware of.

But I like to think of what God Harbours us from, though even as I write that many many objections pop up in my mind!  It is a deep and holy privilege of my work to listen to and to pray with people who have experienced every high and every low that life has to offer.  Yes I can think of many times when a sick person has recovered, when a potential tragedy has been averted or the joy of when a person accepts Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.  But I can also bring to mind many times when a sick person has not recovered, when a tragedy has happened and of trying to minister to people who have no cause for any kind of hope or joy in their lives.

Bishop Paul Colton struck a chord with many people last week with a ‘tweet’.  Trying to come to terms with the sudden tragic death of a young man on a hockey pitch he wrote the next morning:

Yesterday was a day when my and others’ prayers were not answered. It’s hard to pray again today. Club is heartbroken. Andrew Chambers, RIP

Sometimes it seems that God does not shelter us, we are left to face the full blast of the storm, apparently on our own.  We cry out to him for help but our prayers are swallowed by a great void of nothingness.  I am reminded what what C.S. Lewis wrote after the death of his wife in his book “A grief observed” On trying to pray he experienced:

“… A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence”

As I struggled to come to terms this week with Andy Chambers’ death, as my prayers joined those of hundreds, (if not thousands) of others in praying for his family and friends, and for Bishop Paul as he ministered in that situation, a strange sentence kept repeating itself over and over in my mind.  The words were strange, but I immediately knew what they were and Who it was that spoke them:

‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’

Link

They are the words of Jesus on the cross “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  If we ever feel forsaken by God, if our despair is too great, our pain too intense or our anger too hot, then these words of Christ become our words.  In this life we can only ever have a partial answer, but if Christ himself knew what it was like then it perhaps is against the hard, rough and blood-stained foot of the cross that we find the beginnings of a response…

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Photo notes:  This picture is actually sixteen separate pictures ‘stitched’ together as a panorama – it takes a bit of practise to get it right!  Here’s how to do it with a digital SLR:  First of all set the lens to 50mm equivalent (to minimise distortion), then take a meter reading from the brightest part of the scene.  Then put the camera in manual mode and set it to whatever the meter reading was (eg. f10, 1/250 sec) then disable the auto ISO (I used ISO 200) and manually set the white balance (I used ‘cloudy’ for the above), finally make sure to turn autofocus off and depending on the scene set it for just short of infinity.  Then start at one end and work your way across taking pictures.  Make sure that you have plenty of overlap with each picture as this helps the computer to create the image afterwards.  (You can do this using JPEG’s, but I use RAW files, again to give the computer more to work with).  If you have photoshop you are laughing, I have an old version of photoshop elements which does the job almost as well, though there are many other programmes both free and expensive that will do the job for you.  If you want to know more, just ask and I will be happy to help.