Posts tagged ‘death’
07/02/09 [A draft written in some haste, so bear with me if it's not polished.]
Why is the death of a pet so hard on us animal lovers?
Today, in my home, we are facing the death of my daughter’s much beloved, 8-year-old calico cat Chip. She was my daughter’s 8th birthday present. Of course she’s much too young to die. We expected many more years with her sweet, purry, nature. Now this beautiful creature will pass from our lives before sunset. For whatever reason her kidneys have failed, and there is nothing that can be done. It quite took us by surprise. We have a photo of her walking about in the yard less than a week ago and she seemed OK then.
Today Chip is here. She’s so lethargic. We’ll take her to be put down once the summer school day is over and everyone is home. Right now we are so quiet. At various times we sit down and pet the little sweetheart and tell her how sorry we are for this, and tell her how much she is loved and always has been. We think how shocked we feel that one who so recently was wrestling with her fellow cat could now be so obviously ill and dying.
How and why does all this hurt so?…
Epilogue – I have now completed my series on existentialist ideas as they pertain to fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. It was an exceptionally brief tour of a complex and rich philosophical tradition, but I hope I have helped impart a somewhat clearer picture of what the existentialists were trying to say: life is sad, sometimes, and frightening, and often difficult, and there is no philosopher’s or theologian’s balm that will anesthetize the pains of life. We are thrown into a world not of our making, not designed to meet our needs, and we find ourselves alone, with no one in charge, and utterly responsible for what we do. We find we grow, and grow old, and that life is thereby a series of losses – friends, parents, youth, pets, potential, eventually life itself. These things are all a part of being human.
But in that very anxiety before loss and our own deaths, in the duty to self-create, in our loneliness and vulnerability, lies our salvation – for in forsaking the illusions we wish we could believe about life, we find we are truly able to see life, for the first time. And what we see is breathtaking: the stunning preciousness of life, and the indescribable beauty of the world and of those around us. All we have to do is face our fears, make our peace with the uncertainty and “groundlessness” of our lives, give up on the fantasy that someone, somewhere will recognize our own specialness enough to swoop in and save us from life’s pain. Then, and only then, can we really begin to live…
Author’s Note: This is the third of a five-part series examining fundamentalism from an existentialist perspective. In what follows we begin to review the existentialist motifs that Irvin Yalom discusses in his Existential Psychotherapy. This post examines death and isolation.
Death - Yalom writes:
“It is one of life’s most self-evident truths that everything fades, that we fear the fading, and that we must live, nonetheless, in the face of the fading, in the face of fear.” (p. 30).
Existentialists often speak of this in terms of “finitude.” Finitude means an awareness that we are vulnerable creatures, with limited abilities and power to shape the world, and that we are subject to the passing of time and the loss that it brings – including, ultimately, death. Thus, it follows that grief is an intrinsic part of life – and the sweeter the living, the deeper the grief at its inevitable passing. The term “finitude” also includes death anxiety proper: a bedrock awareness that I, myself, and all those I care about, and all the things that matter to me, will not last forever. My life, all my cares, all my projects will eventually cease.
Yalom suggest we are all intrinsically aware of our finitude, though it is frightening and we often push it aside…
Christian Commentary – Martyrdom is not a new occurrence nor one that is restricted to Christianity. We often hear news stories from Iraq of suicide bombers hoping to gain favor with God by offering themselves as sacrifices. So what about martyrs? What is so convincing about one’s faith that one would die for it?
One example of twentieth century Christian martyrs is the missionary Jim Elliot and his four co-workers Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint. There were two recent movies made telling their story: End of the Spear and the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor. In 1956, these five men felt called to share the gospel with the Auca Indians of Ecuador, a violent indigenous people group who had never had friendly contact with the outside world. After a promising brief encounter including an airplane ride for one of the Waodoni (Auca) nicknamed George, they made plans to actually visit the tribe. During their journey they were ambushed and speared to death by ten Waodoni (Auca) men.
The thing that is astounding to me about this story is the reaction of their families. Two years later the wife and sister of two of the murdered missionaries, Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, went to live with and minister to the same people who had killed the ones they loved…
This week a lady died at our church. B- was a wonderful, smiling person who was always a pleasure to chat with. She was also a talented artist. In fact she is single-handedly responsible for all the icons in the church. She also taught iconography (either the history and theology, or the actual painting, or both) to most of the folks in the church.
Her death was sudden, but once you’re over 80, death can’t be too big a surprise. At least B- went peacefully. Sunday she was her usual self – I exchanged a few words with her – and Monday she took a nap from which she didn’t wake up.
So now I’m watching folks react to B-’s death.
My own first reaction was, “Whoa! She seemed just fine Sunday. What a shame. We’ll really miss her.” Since then, the rest of my thoughts on her have been about what a neat person she was and of all that she gave to others. Her art, her teaching, her kindness, her example of humility. In so far as there is such a thing as a Christian standard for living, then, in my opinion, B- is one of the few examples of it. Heck, if being Christian made people become like B-, they wouldn’t be able to put up buildings fast enough to hold all the converts.
So far the reactions I’ve seen from Christians has puzzled me though…
I’ve been thinking a lot about sin lately. No, I don’t have a guilty conscience. Quite the opposite. My conscience has never been clearer, although I think my fundy friends would say that it’s been “seared with a hot iron.” I consider it liberated from guilt theology. The big question of the day: is it even possible to sin? My short answer: no.
At a recent Interfaith Dialogue I was struck by how Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are so dominated by sin consciousness. The primary thrust of each religion appeared to be an attempt to find atonement for sin and be reconciled to God. My favorite college professor delivered the guest sermon at church yesterday. His teaching, along with Brennan Manning’s books, helped me to overcome the narcissistic guilt I inherited in the church growing up. True to form he preached about God’s forgiveness and willful forgetfulness of our sins. That is a very necessary message to help people come out of the trap that is fundamentalism. It’s like opening the prison doors and setting people free. I don’t want to play off the Matrix too much, but at this stage of the journey I’ve come to realize that there is no prison to begin with. We are imprisoned only by the smallness of our minds…