Keeping Death Before Your Eyes Even When You Are Not Very Old

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Keeping Death Before Your Eyes Even When You Are Not Very Old

In this northern corner of Minnesota spring comes late. Sometimes snow lies on the garden until mid-May and then the red clay is too wet to work until mid-June. Summers are brief, like a passing warm breeze. Here we raise our greens in full sun; no thin afternoon shade to protect them from a too-fierce sun. Some summers the tomatoes never ripen, and always autumn lurks to sweep all away before it. Our hearts ache for it even while it is with us.

As another brief spring comes, as skittishly as the doe to my birdfeeder, I think about the length of my own days. I am 60 and approaching my autumn, and though my heart quickens each spring, my body is slower to respond.

In Psalm 90 the poet cries in grief,

   “For our lives pass away: seventy years,
       or eighty for the strong,
       and all of them toil and grief.
    They hurry past and we are blown away
       as dust in your wind.”

Such bleakness, yet I feel inside an answering tug, sensing my own mortality in my slowness to recover from passing illness. The years trickle away so stealthily we hardly notice, and then one morning we awake to feel the tug of the earth on aching bones.

In his monastic rule, St. Benedict repeats Christ’s admonition to “walk while you have the light of life, lest the darkness of death overtake you” (John 12:35). Benedict continues, “As we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.” Yes, along with its grief, life is sweet!

Psalm 90 continues:

  “Turn to us, O Lord!
    How long must we wait? Have compassion!
    Fill us each morning with your love,
       satisfy our hunger with your joy.
    Let your favor rest on us,
       and bring success to the work of our hands.
    O, bring success to the work of our hands!”

Saint Benedict’s healthy advice now makes sense: always keep death before our eyes. We must remember that life is brief, that we are here to serve the will of God and do what we can for others, so that when death comes our spirits are ready for union with God. The young expect to accomplish so much; the old grieve only for lost chances to be kind.

In the end, perhaps it is not what we have accomplished, but how much we have loved. It is not too late. If we have spent years tilling our heart’s soil, God can bring us from planting to abundant harvest in just a few decades.

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized

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“And let them first pray together, that so they may associate in peace.”
–St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict