As the pace of life becomes increasingly hectic, and the information and demands confronting us more complex, we seem to have adopted a reductionist stance to the challenges of daily living.
Christmas is reduced to jingles about loans and reminders of shopping days introduced early to compensate for slow spending. Education is reduced to ‘pass factories’, and political wrangling enlivened by sporadic protests with the same tired chants.
Sacred space and the hunger for the sacred are reduced to construction and upgrades and histrionic displays as if sheer noise could compensate for the sense of the absence of God.
The one irreducible reality is death, that stark reminder of our mortality that stubbornly resists all attempts to sanitise or pretend it away. In every age and every culture, rituals for coping with the fact of death have been cultivated. Ours is no different as we try to mitigate the pain of loss by celebrations of the life of the deceased, substituting his or her favourite pop music for funereal rites, and surrounding the corpse with artefacts reflecting her hobbies or favourite pastimes.
Especially poignant is the death that is viewed as ‘before time’, when the person seems to be taken in the prime of life, or worse, when death comes by one’s own hand just when, to the onlooker, life had just begun to smile on the young person.
The poet says, “We come from heaven, trailing clouds of glory”, and all our living is ‘a sleep, a forgetting’ that reality that first fostered us. The psalmist says that God “textured us in our mother’s womb”, carefully knitting us together and lovingly overseeing every word and act of our subsequent life. Faced with the mysterious nature of the human person, all we know for sure is that each life is a gift.
That each person is put on this earth at a particular time and place for a particular purpose in God’s Plan for the development of the Universe and its inhabitants. That if we live according to what God has revealed about God’s Self, our time on earth is adequate for the mission entrusted to each of us. That the irruption of God’s Son into our world has pushed back the frontiers of life to include death as a passage to a fuller life uninterrupted by death.
In order to embrace and make meaning of our life in the here and now, we have to expand our imagination to Before Birth and After Death, to understand that life is not merely the dash between two dates on a tombstone but that what we do and what we endure must be part of a larger whole.
Just as our attending a particular school involves us, for better or worse in a community bonded together by what we have contributed to and received from that school, so too, our participation in the anxious discussion about current education systems cannot be limited to the gossip fanned by social media, or narrow self-interest.
Neither can our response to the death-dealing culture about us be to raise our walls higher, say our prayers and revel in the voyeuristic reporting that sometimes masquerades as facts.
We cannot take refuge in death by absenting ourselves from the complex business of living. To do this is to enter into a death that does not issue in Resurrection; it is to remove oneself from the stream of life issuing from the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.