As we explore the concept of eldering in the current issue (May/June/July 2016), we revisit some excerpts from the Weavings archive. To order a copy of the “Eldering” issue, call 1.800.972.0433. Back issues of Weavings are also available—while supplies last. Browse the inventory.
The fifth-century Rule of St. Benedict, which provides spiritual guidance even for seekers today, includes the instruct ion to “day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” Benedict thought it was important to remind his community that staying in touch with mortality was essential for those who would take the spiritual quest seriously and desired to make God the center of their lives and live out of that center. Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century Carmelite, gazed on a barren winter tree and suddenly became aware that death was truly a prelude to birth. His response? Remain awake to God’s intimacy even in the mundane moments of each day.
Remembering our mortality gives us access to the depths of our lives in a way that is both immediate and challenging. Primarily we recognize that we are finite beings dependent on a Source of love. As a result, we learn to live our lives with a sense of gratitude. Our very being is given with each second, and the entire universe rests in the palm of the Creator’s hand. Should we not learn how to pay attention, allowing the thought of our mortality to heighten an awareness of our giftedness? Remaining awake and attentive from moment to moment opens our hearts to the possibility of enjoying divine presence now and forever.
Forgetting our human vulnerability, on the other hand, we succumb to the illusion that we are independent and in control; we fall asleep. Like the five foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25, we are not prepared and miss the moment of revelation. The door of the wedding hall slams shut, and we approach the end of our lives filled with regret, fear, and anxiousness. Everything depends on staying awake, “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). Falling asleep we are no longer present to our lives and, therefore, cannot live fully.
Staying in touch with mortality also nourishes a sense of solitude. We know that in the end we stand alone before God and must take full responsibility for our lives. We no longer have patience for falseness, preconceptions, and conventional security. There is an urgency to face the truth. Solitude does not isolate us because God is with us, along with a community of believers who look with faith on the dying Christ. Drawing strength from Christ’s death, we are always in communion.
In the end, solitude may test the human spirit but, as Henri Nouwen reminds us, we journey in the company of others and the lifetime process of befriending our own death helps others befriend theirs and discover their deepest calling as children of God.
How have you experienced the call to remember your own mortality, and what difference has it made in the way you live?
From “Befriending Our Death: A Pilgrimage,” Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4 (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 2013).