Archive for the ‘Life and death’ Tag

Advent Sunday 2011 – The World’s End   1 comment

One reason for establishing this blog at this time is that I had resolved to follow a set of Advent reflections given out at the church I on/off attend. I am awful at any form of self-discipline and that includes sustaining spiritual exercises. However I thought if I set to writing a blog each day I might just sustain a series of short reflection for 28 days.

Advent, by the way, is the period in the church calendar that leads up until Christmas. Different parts of the church use the season to think on different themes.

The material given out for these daily Advent reflections is not one that I would have chosen for myself. [“Your Journey to Christmas” published by Redemptorist Publications]. However countless times on my spiritual journey I have experienced growth when I have yielded to a suggestion to read something I would never have chosen for myself.

I must admit the theme set for today made me groan: “Rapture” in its end of the world sense! I am not enraptured with the rapture. Confining my comments to Christian history alone in every generation there has been some individuals or some part of the church who have felt “the end is nigh”. The much publicised example of Harold Camping in 2011 was cited in the notes. Why this fixation with “the end of times”?

We all face our personal end of the world: death.

Mark’s Gospel quotes Jesus as follows:

31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The Day and Hour Unknown

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
[Mark 13:31-33 NIV]

If I am honest I set aside thinking about the end of the world. However I think that message of not knowing the day or the hour is one that is so central to thinking about our own death. You don’t have to be religious to gain benefit from thinking about it. Look how popular lists such as “100 things to do before I die” are in magazines and on the internet.

While on retreat in a much-loved place, an Anglican Franciscan Monastery called Glasshampton, probably nearly 20 years ago now. I was working though some meditation exercises on my own in the chapel. I can’t remember now whether they were Ignatian exercises, or those of Anthony de Mello, in fact this is such an obvious one I would expect most spiritual guides of whatever faith or none to have it in their repertoire. After stilling myself, I was encouraged to make a deep sense aware imagining of my own death, not the means of it but the reality of it, and then the funeral. Seeing my coffin lowered into the grave.

I don’t remember much of the detail of the experience, the pictures that came to mind. However I do remember the deep sense of peace I had when I returned to awareness of my surroundings. I am going to die, and it is all right that I am going to die.

Similarly, thinking of the end of the world in the sense of life on this planet. Life here is going to end at some point. Assuming man’s own foolishness does not render the place uninhabitable in the next century or so, it is going to become so eventually. The current scientific view is that the sun will, in its own death throws, swell to possibly swallow the earth it in about 5 billion years. Life would have become impossible here long before that, and there are plenty of other possible events such as asteroid collisions that could result in the same. The scientific consensus about how the universe will die is less clear with various theories of Heat Death (it expands so far and in doing so its temperature tends towards absolute zero) and Big Crunch (it at some point will start to collapse under its own gravitational pull which will eventually result in the reverse of the Big Bang – the universe will disappear up its own singularity). With so many possible causes (I have not mentioned pandemics, food webs becoming unsustainable, collapse of the Earth’s magnetic field, ….), we know not the day we know not the hour when life will end. However it seems very reasonable indeed to assume it will.

In conclusion I come to what I can only call a personal statement of faith. I believe in a God who creates (present continuous deliberately) and sustains the universe. Indeed in my imagining of that I envisage Him/Her entwined with, even innate to every sub-atomic particle and unfolding as the universe unfolds. He/She was there in some way at my conception and my birth and will be there at my death. Somehow God weaves on the whole loom of existence the minuscule thread that is my life. (If that analogy implies a God who pulls the strings it was not meant to.) I have no idea if I will have any conscious existence after death. But in the words of the much-loved English mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well“.