Friday, January 12, 2007

The following was a mediation in History of Christian Thought. I offer it by way of indulgence.

Therefore, my children, let us hold to the discipline, and not be careless. For we have the Lord for our co-worker in this, as it is written, God works for good with everyone who chooses the good. And in order that we not become negligent, it is good to carefully consider the Apostle’s statement: I die daily. For if we so live as people dying daily, we will not commit sin. The point of the saying is this: As we rise daily, let us suppose that we shall not survive till evening, and again, as we prepare for sleep, let us consider that we shall not awaken. By its very nature our life is uncertain, and is meted out daily by providence. If we think this way, and in this way live – daily – we will not sin, nor will we crave anything, nor bear a grudge against anyone, nor will we lay up treasures on earth, but as people who anticipate dying each day we shall be free of possessions and we shall forgive all things to all people.”

-Athanasius, from The Life of Anthony

This comes all too powerfully to me, just three months away from my father-in-law’s death – the closest person to me to have yet passed on. I have marveled at how well he lived his life this past year or two, particularly as if he were closing things up. He didn’t approach life as if he were dying – don’t misunderstand me. But he lived his life full of forgiveness and understanding, honesty and sincerity, adventurous as if he had nothing to lose.

The line between metaphor and reality is fine here. Athanasius’ words by themselves inspire me and speak truth to me. But in the given context of my life, and that of my family, death is no allegory, no abstract thought. How do I do justice to “dying daily” and be faithful and fair to the real death that dwells in my heart?

Did Athanasius know death like this? Surely, a subject of the Empire and a desert hermit would know death and suffering, more than I have experienced in my life thus far. Perhaps Athanasius spoke from literal experience, as well as allegory and spirituality. And it is just my soft-bodied-ness that draws me back from discussing death in the context of death.

I have to remember, that Jesus actually died, as did countless hundreds, thousands, millions of Christians – for whom the message of Jesus had some real claim and comfort. I do not want to know their dedication, the dept of their knowledge of death, the breadth of their suffering. Is it vanity or weakness or lack of resolve that makes me feel this way?

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