On the passage of death

Daily, I read the obituary page of my local newspaper. For I – with John Donne, “No man is an Island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me”[1] – believe in the sacred, shared kinship of humankind. The biographical texts accompanying the names and photographs are, for me, summations of journeys in and through this world; each shaping the larger story of the life of a community. And nearly every announcement bears the following wording: “passed peacefully into eternity” or “went home to be with the Lord” or “gained heavenly wings.”

Once, I, considering myself a biblio-theological sophisticate, viewed such language as sentimentalizing the stark reality of death. Now, contemplating my inexorable journey toward my dying day, I appreciate these metaphors as expressions of faith. They articulate an expectation that the Apostle Paul’s counsel is true: “We do not want you…(to) grieve as those who have no hope. For as we believe Jesus died and rose again, God, through Jesus, will bring with him those who have died…therefore, encourage one another with these words.”[2]

These phrases – “passed peacefully into eternity”, “went home to be with the Lord”, and “gained heavenly wings” – capture my hope, too. My hope, again, à la Donne, that: “All mankind is of one Author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one Chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language.”[3]

© 2022 PRA


[1] From Meditations XVII, John Donne (1572-1631), English poet, lawyer, and Church of England cleric.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 4.13-14, 18

[3] From Meditations XVII. The full text of this passage: “All mankind is of one Author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one Chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation; and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that Library where every book shall lie open to one another.

#ourcommonhumanityinlifeandindeath

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