Sunday, November 1, 2015

Life, Death, and Love

You might recognize this as lyrics from Carly Simon's Have You Seen Me Lately album: the fourth track.
"...And life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight...."
I ran into it as part of a prayer by Fr. Bede Jarrett, who had said he was repeating something William Penn wrote. Rossiter W. Raymond wrote the lines into his "Death is Only an Horizon" poem.

I'll get back to a longer excerpt from Fr. Jarrett's prayer: after talking about death, life, love, and all that.

Memento Mori and Carpe Diem

"Memento mori" — Latin for 'remember your death,' more or less — makes sense: if done with common sense. Recognition of approaching death can have a wonderfully focusing effect.

But there's wisdom in "carpe diem," too. The phrase, from a Latin poet's "Odes," isn't the oldest suggestion that enjoying the 'now' makes sense.

The idea goes back at least as far as the "Epic of Gilgamesh"1 and Ecclesiastes 2:24.

So do comparisons involving folly and wind:
"...As for man, his days are numbered,
whatever he may do, it is but wind....
(Gilgamesh to Enkidu, in "Epic of Gilgamesh;" tablet III, the Old Babylonian version; via Wikipquote)
— — —
"4 'What the eyes see is better than what the desires wander after.' This also is vanity and a chase after wind."
(Ecclesiastes 6:9)
As I've said before, it's hardly surprising that the Hebrews picked up imagery from Mesopotamian cultures. (March 29, 2015; July 15, 2014)


Pleasure, enjoyed in moderation, is a good idea:
"3 There is nothing better for man than to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors. Even this, I realized, is from the hand of God.

"For who can eat or drink apart from him?"
(Eccelsiastes 2:24-25)
If that doesn't sound "Biblical," maybe it's because America's assumptions and attitudes about God and faith tend toward the "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" style.

Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners" sermon is old-fashioned 'fire and brimstone' preaching, filled with encouraging words like these:
"...every unconverted Man properly belongs to Hell...."

"...The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you...."

" will be wholly lost and thrown away of God...."
("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," pp. 6, 9, 15, 18; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))
God does not hate me, or you.
"For God so loved the world that he gave 7 his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the world, but that the world might be saved through him. "
(John 3:16-17)
God loves us, and wants to adopt us. (John 3:17; Ephesians 1:3-5; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 52, 1825)

As adopted children, we're expected to act like God matters. I've been over that before. (October 4, 2015; September 6, 2015)

Getting back to pleasure, life, and getting a grip — God made and is making a good and beautiful world. (Genesis 1:1-2:9; Catechism, 31-32)

Pretending that this world's beauty is icky makes no sense. Not to me, anyway. Neither does assuming that getting more stuff should be top priority:
"And if riches be a desirable possession in life, what is more rich than Wisdom, who produces all things?

"And if prudence renders service, who in the world is a better craftsman than she?

"2 Or if one loves justice, the fruits of her works are virtues; For she teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for men than these.

"Or again, if one yearns for copious learning, she knows the things of old, and infers those yet to come. She understands the turns of phrases and the solutions of riddles; signs and wonders she knows in advance and the outcome of times and ages. "
(Wisdom 8:5-8)
Moderation makes sense. (Catechism, 1809, 2264, 2362, 2405, 2496, 2522, 2548)

Life, Death, and Beyond

Human life is sacred, and health is a 'precious gift.' I'm expected to take care of my health: within reason. (Catechism, 2258, 2274-2279, 2288-2289)

Sooner or later, though, I'll die. Right after that, there's a final performance review: my particular judgment. (Catechism, 1021-1022)

I'm not looking forward to it, but it's unavoidable.

Then I live forever, which is good news or bad news, depending on what I do with the package I've been issued.

If I've taken God seriously, I'll have loved God, loved my neighbors, seen everyone as my neighbor, and treated others as I'd like to be treated. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

I've discussed faith, works, and James 2:14-26 before. (September 6, 2015; March 22, 2015; July 27, 2014)

After my particular judgment, there's Heaven, the Purgatory-Heaven track: or Hell. (Catechism, 1023-1037)

Purgatory is not a 'get out of Hell free' card. It's more like an ICU or emergency room for souls, and that's another topic.

Bottom line, we get one life, one soul, and one chance at eternity. Hope is a virtue, despair is not an option, and hope lasts as long as we live. (Catechism, 366, 988-1014, 1021-1022, 1501, 1817-1821, 2091)

This looks like a good place for more of that prayer:
"...What you give you do not take away, for what is yours is ours also if we are yours. And life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to yourself that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with you..."
("For Our Departed Loved Ones," Fr. Bede Jarrett; from "The Catholic Prayer Book;" complied by Msgr. Michael Buckley, edited by Tony Castle; p. 309 (1984, updated 2013)

Creation 2.0

Where was I? Carly Simon, dust, death, judgment. Right.

After death and judgment there's this creation's closing ceremony — the Last Judgment — and we see what's next. (Catechism, 1038-1050)

Some speculation about Creation 2.0 is informed; some not so much.

I've indulged in that sort of guesswork, but I think this pretty well sums up what we know:
"I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people 4 and God himself will always be with them (as their God).

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away.' "
(Revelation 21:3-4)
I'll see you there: I hope.

More about life, death, and making sense:

1 Gilgamesh was probably a Sumerian king, sometime between the reigns of Qa'a and Khufu. He's also the hero of the "Epic of Gilgamesh." There's an Old Babylonian version of "Epic of Gilgamesh," but we're more familiar with the copy found in Ashurbanipal's library.
"...As for man, his days are numbered, whatever he may do, it is but wind...."
(Gilgamesh to Enkidu, in "Epic of Gilgamesh;" tablet III, the Old Babylonian version; via Wikipquote)

"...Humans come then go, that is the way fate decreed on the Tablets of Destiny.
So someday you will depart, but till that distant day Sing, and dance.
Eat your fill of warm cooked food and cool jugs of beer.
Cherish the children your love gave life.
Bathe away life's dirt in warm drawn waters.
Pass the time in joy with your chosen wife....
(Siduri to Gilgamesh, in "Epic of Gilgamesh," via Wikiquote)

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