“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 3 of Spiritual Practices and Reflections: Walking with Death

Over the Holiday break, I had the chance to walk through a small cemetery. I spent time reading the headstones, imagining the lives of the people who were buried there. Some had served our country, some had died young, some had been dead a long time. 

Being among the dead, on a bright sunny day, I once again felt the impermanence of my life. I was aware of my mortality, of the mortality of those I love. I intentionally brought to mind many of the names and faces of those I've known and loved, who are no longer alive. And I was able to imagine myself near death, as well, my own body failing.

"Walking with death" in this way, I felt a renewed understanding of what a gift it is to be alive at all. I felt thankful to serve the faith community of First Universalist, as we journey together. I was reminded, as Rev. Forrest Church so often said, that death doesn't take everything from us; death cannot take away the love, time, attention, we've shared and given away to others. 

There's nothing quite like walking in a cemetery...to bring you back to life, to what matters. In fact, as a Unitarian Universalist, my focus is on living this life as well and as deeply as I am able, so that when I come to the end of my days, I am not filled with regret or anger, but gratitude for the life I've had.   

In this New Year, I hope you will spend time reflection on death, so that you might answer questions like these: How can I best serve and bless the world with my life? What is truly important in my life? What can I give away (or do) that will last beyond my life, that death can't take away?

Perhaps many of you have seen this poem. It's worth sharing again: 

When Death Comes  by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

1 comment:

Denise Konen said...

I wrote this on my resume many years ago and it's still there today: "My goal is to work with others to encourage personal awareness, success and community responsibility to contribute to an environment where all people feel they belong and contribute."
This poem reminds me of this comittment to myself and others. Thank you, Justin. Life is so precious and you and Mary Oliver have reminded me to focus on that.