This painting “Skull and Candle”is by Gerard Richter, a German painter born in 1932. It’s a reflection on life and death. The lit candle symbolises life, and the life-less human skull symbolises death. Paradoxically, without the light of the candle or another light source, we would not be able to see the skull, and without the brain residing in our skull, we wouldn’t be aware of the light. The two need each other: candle & skull, life & death.
But how do we handle the tension between them, the life we live and the reality of our upcoming death? Someone once wrote that only the reality of death fully poses the question of the meaning of life. Others might think that the beauty and wonder of life is denied by the finality of death, instead turning it into a tragedy. St John wrote that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I’ve been mulling on the questions of Life and Death and would like to share several reflections.
1 Robert Frost, the American poet wrote in one of his poems that: ‘Home is the place, where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.’ To our shame, many people on our planet don’t have such a home or are denied access to it.
But God is more gracious. Jesus famously said that ‘In my father’s house there are many mansions.’ Not just ‘homes’ but ‘mansions’, and with the implication that there is room for all.
When an angel [a messenger from God] appears in the Gospels they invariably begin what they have to say with the words “Fear not.”
So we have nothing to fear, there is a Home for all of us beyond death.
2 St John in his Gospel writes of Jesus having, in some sense come from God at His birth, in order to incarnate something of God into this world, before returning back Home to God after His death.
I have come to see that this is true for every human being. That we each come from God prior to our birth, that our primary task is to incarnate something of God in the world in which we find ourselves, and that we return Home whence we came, at our deaths.
We bring with us memories of being with God that inform how we incarnate something of God, and in doing so become a part of the inauguration of God’s Kingdom that Jesus began. [see Blog 54 ‘Memories of Home’]
My experience is that most people are better at this then they give themselves credit for. The memories are of qualities that appear to be universally known although variously expressed. They are not quantifiable and are what make life meaningful, they include: love, creativity, forgiveness, acceptance, trust, playfulness, hospitality, kindness, compassion, and friendship: our delight in beauty, music, warmth, truth, peace, security, humour, harmony, justice, vision, wonder, awe and silence.
We project these memories forward into our notion of we might call heaven, however conceived.
Whatever we incarnate of God on this earth will inevitably, by definition, transcend death. They will be the gifts we ‘take Home.’
3 My experience is that our Home beyond death is a place of reconciliation. Reconciliation with God, with ourselves and thence with all those, both living and dead, from whom we feel estranged.
4 Love transcends death. We dont stop loving someone just because they’ve died, and presumably the dead don’t either. The relationship may change, it may seem to fade, or indeed deepen. But it will continue to unite and undergird us. I wonder if we love other people precisely because they incarnate these divine qualities to us?
5 So when someone whom we love dies, they have returned home to the God whence they came. As countless others have done before them, and as we will in turn one day.
“And all shall be well, and all shall be well, & all manner of things shall be well” as Julian of Norwich famously wrote.
First posted on https://contemporaryspirituality.blog