A couple of weeks ago I remarked to someone outside my church that "people were dying all around me." She advised that they had been dying all along, that I just hadn't noticed. Fair enough. Still, it seems there has been an unusual spike in deaths. For example, on October 15th my mother died. One month previously, her brother died. One month after her, the other brother died. My cousin's wife's mother died. My pastor's mother died. A co-worker's mother died. And so it goes. People truly are dying all around me.
The monk, Benedict, once said that as a Christian one is to "keep death daily before your eyes." When I wrote that quote down on January 11, 1997, I don't think I fully appreciated what it meant. It's easy to avoid death in this culture. I drive 20 minutes to work and back each day, and I pass no cemeteries. I saw a rare funeral procession the other day, and no one seemed to know (or care) how to act in its wake. Few pulled over or made way. A couple of drivers even impatiently tried to pass the line. And when death does come home to some, they do not know how to behave. They stumble over it, run from it.
When I was laid up in a hospital once for six weeks, someone told me not to "waste my suffering." I didn't want to hear that, and yet it was good advice, though it has taken me years to understand it. Rather than giving into distraction or denial, it's better to let death wash over you, to live in it for a season. I wouldn't say that's fun, but it is good. I'm not at all happy about death, because it's not normal, was not intended by God, and yet it holds its lessons. It's a great reminder that we live in a shadow-land of distractions and cares that diverts us from our homeward focus, that "other country" which all of scripture points to.
In an essay published over a decade ago, "The Glory of His Discontent," Don Hudson asserts that we are consoled in our own discontent --- our "holy" discontent --- in that God is also discontent. He longs for an end to the suffering of the world, to a final end to death, to a time when all is made right. In imaging Him, we do likewise. After all, something is amiss if we believe that this world is normal or as good as it gets, even though in the best of times we may deceive ourselves with such thoughts.
"Keep death daily before your eyes." I doubt I can ever not do that now. But I wouldn't have it otherwise, as it has made me a little more dependent on the only One who offers true consolation, to the One who knows our discontent better than do we. Jesus wept. God looks longingly out over a planet and people bent and marred by an unholy Disruptor, and He waits. The Comforter comes and encircles us, carries the weight of our discontent. And we live in the hope that our discontent will finally be undone, that all that is wrong will be made right. . . in that other country.