“Oboe Concerto In D Minor: 2. Adagio”, Heinz Hollinger, Members of the Staatskapelle Dresden & Vittorio Negri, from the album “The Ultimate Baroque”, 2004
Sunday morning again. Finding myself sleeping less and less these nights. Not feelling like I would necessarily want more sleep than what I am getting because I do feel rested, but simply finding myself awake and thinking earlier and earlier in the morning. Find myself pondering on last things, end of life things, afterlife.
Spoiler … this is not a happy letter, not feeling warm and satisfied in my happy place this morning. If you are looking for happy, probably you should look elsewhere. Also, these thoughts are probably boring as hell for anyone else but me. But its my blog and I get to write what I want, so I can get things out of my head, so I don’t nag people around me with downer pontification.
I consider that most of the people I have known personally in this life are already dead, by age, or disease, or misadventure, having buried more people than I now have in my circle of friends, I feel the presence of the “The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come” here present in the library of my mind. Maybe there are a few others out there in the early morning fog wondering about the end of all things and the personal “eschatological” implications for whatever is left of my life, our lives.
I am certain that I am not unique, or the only one wandering around this particular dark forest. For clarity I use the term “eschatological” above, to indicate my personal belief in a doctrine concerning ultimate or final things, such as death, the destiny of my soul, the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, and the Last Judgment.
These days I am waking regularly around 04:00 and sometimes earlier. Thoughts that clutter up my mind this early almost always revolve around mortality and the absence of distractions to look forward to with anticipation. The “things of this world” which once fully occupied my thoughts attract and distract less and less.
A good friend of mine gets out and walks whenever this happens, now he is walking 6 or 8 miles a day. His family seems OK with this, but mine would freak out if I started walking around town in “the middle of the night”. I have to understand and accept that I should stay right here and entertain them if they are awake, and if I get up and go out they always wake up immediately.
My mother was like this, never able to settle unless everyone in the family was doing whatever she believed was the “right” thing for them to be doing at that particular time of the day. “Snug in their bed” she called it. And of course I don’t really feel like walking that much anyway, courtesy of knees and hips which feel like they have shards of glass embedded in them if I tax them too much.
Still find myself wasting neurons mulling about things over which I really have little or no control, some concerns for developments and possibilities after my death, and as a result of my death. Trying to figure out how to minimize the impact of my decline and death on those around me, loved ones and friends as well as the service community.
Really, the only thing that seems to bother me about death is my wish that I do not become a burden to others in my death spiral. My dad did it right, aneurysm, all over and done with in 3 days. No wailing and gnashing of teeth, no vindictive repercussions as the disabled geriatric lingers on in the valley of death.
No risk of becoming such an inconvenience to others that the government’s euthanasia, assisted suicide, mercy killing, legal murder of elders, pick your euphemism, starts to look attractive. Just a desire to somehow atone, by suffering, in peace, as long as it takes.
Most of this mind mulling around is not about anything I can do anything about in the present, but it is difficult to break out of old ruts and habits of thought. Once one begins to pull back from all the little things that used to fill up one’s life, to “detach” from the little things like socializing, eating, visiting, playing games, sports, travel, “watching” media distraction, Netflix, Kindle books, what then is left?
Thinking about physical ailments about which there is really nothing that can be done as I age. That is just the cup of aging humanity, suck it up princess. Just pain and discomfort in varying degrees and parts, and no way to lay or sit that doesn’t hurt somehow.
Entertaining and socializing seems largely connected with eating in our culture and this becomes a challenge rather than a pleasure when one is trying to fast and detach from one’s attachments to sensual pleasures. It is sobering to realize what a huge part eating plays in our daily activities.
Thinking about meals that don’t really satisfy because the old satisfactions involved socializing, and drinking, and eating way too much, beyond what the body actually needs, which turns out to be very little. Thinking about “Meals” as a penitential chore, a sacrificial task derived from the needs of others.
It is an interesting way to look at the domestic function of meal preparation. Definitely not fashionable these days, especially with the vertically integrated multinational food conglomerates selling cheap processed corn and wheat and entertainment via lips and tongue and throat.
Thinking about books that are more and more difficult to read, not because of failing intellect, but because of failing eyes – thank God for electronic text and zoom. Thinking about the interior life, and the sins of the past, long forgiven but still not atoned for, and the growing sense of my own unworthiness, my own “wretchedness” and utter insignificance in the biblical sense, relative to Almighty God.
There is increasingly nothing left but misery and mystery. The weight of what I don’t understand is overwhelming. I thought I was just getting a handle on spiritual growth and I now find many statements from the Gospels more challenging in their greatness and gravity than I did before. In old age it doesn’t get easier, but harder. This has become a very troubling situation but there is a great truth here.
On the one hand, in older age I am more practised, smoother, more sure, more “professional”. I have figured out the easiest and most efficient ways to get through. Life has taken its shape and all the the important decisions have been made. It is in some ways a comfort, I may or may not actually understand that my bad choices have had bad consequences, but at least that light is starting to come on, if only for my personal audience of one.
On the other hand, as I age, I more clearly see the difficulty in life’s questions. It is not so much getting wisdom as the inevitable grinding down of my preconceptions and vanities about what I think I know. Ha, maybe that is what wisdom is? I don’t know anything any more except that I really know very little about anything.
As I age, I see more deeply, I feel the burden of my culture, of the secular humanist, fashionably progressive godlessness all around. I start to see just how deeply I am embedded in that culture. I see, like a neon sign flashing, the absence of faith in our polite society and even deep into the Church.
I see the glorification of perversion and deviance and all manner of corruption and evil, murder, fornication, sodomy, adultery, fraud, prostitution, all now legal in some guise or another under some euphemism or other – I feel like I am in the audience to whom Paul spoke in Rome.
In spite of the temptation to just give up on faith, what else is there to turn to? I think about Christ’s words In Luke 18:
“1And he spoke also a parable to them, that we ought always to pray, and not to faint, 2Saying: There was a judge in a certain city, who feared not God, nor regarded man. (ed. as with our current crop of Supremes) 3And there was a certain widow in that city, and she came to him, saying: Avenge me of my adversary. 4And he would not for a long time.
But afterwards he said within himself: Although I fear not God, nor regard man, 5Yet because this widow is troublesome to me, I will avenge her, lest continually coming she weary me. 6And the Lord said: Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7And will not God revenge his elect who cry to him day and night: and will he have patience in their regard?
8I say to you, that he will quickly revenge them. But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8, Douay-Rheims Bible)
Even so, in sacred scripture, I also feel the greatness of Jesus Christ’s words, which, more often than before, seem difficult to understand. Is this my personal cross, is this a distance from God’s nearness, the clouded “personal connection” obscured by my narcissism? Is my doubt rooted in the beginnings of understanding how far I am removed from the greatness of the mystery of God, of GOD.
But I also have these little AHA! moments, again and again. I find these comforting, little momentary consolations, juxtaposed against the depths of the Word never fully understood. And then there is judgement! As an awareness of my own wretchedness percolates through my dim understanding, the words of God’s wrath, of accusation, the threat of judgement, have become more frightening, more grave and awesome than ever before.
And now, new to my thinking, there is the God/GOD gap which I referred to in previous posts. I now find the Old Testament, and the Gospels more challenging than I did before when I was feeling good about how I was getting more familiar with scripture and congratulating myself in finally making sense of everything. While certainly not claiming anything resembling holiness I get a glimpse of the thoughts of Simeon when he exclaimed:
29Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; 30Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, 31Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: 32A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32, Douay-Rheims Bible)
In mind of the current rather chaotic and scandalous state of the Church I am going to close with a quote from Benedict XVI, and the ‘General Prayer’ of St Peter Canisius, the ‘Second Apostle of Germany’:
‘Almighty and eternal God, Lord, Heavenly Father! Look through the eyes of your gratuitous mercy at our sorrow, misery, and need. Have mercy on all the faithful Christians, for whom your only-begotten Son, our beloved Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ, willingly went into the hands of sinners and shed his precious blood on the trunk of the cross. Through this Lord Jesus avert, gracious Father, the well-deserved punishment, present and future threats, shameful rebellions, war, famine, disease, sad, and miserable times.
Also enlighten and strengthen all worldly and spiritual rulers and leaders in all goods, so they convey what is to your divine honour, to our salvation, to general peace, and the welfare of all Christianity. Grant us, O God of peace, a right union in faith, without any division and separation; without any separation and schism, convert our hearts to true repentance and amendment of our lives; kindle in us the fire of your love, give us a hunger and a zeal for all righteousness, so that we are as pleasing and complacent to you as obedient children in life and in death.
We pray also, as you want, O God, that we should pray, for our friends and enemies, the healthy and the sick, for all sad and sorrowful Christians, for all the living and the dead, to you O Lord, is commended all our deeds, our trade and commerce, our living and dying. Let us enjoy thy grace here and get there with all the elect that we might praise you in eternal joy and blessedness, honour and praise. We want to give praise, honour and glory to you! Grant us that, O Lord, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your beloved Son, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit as the same God and rules from eternity to eternity, Amen!’
Benedict XVI, Pope. Last Testament: In His Own Words, Bloomsbury Publishing.
So, instead of Cheers, I will just say “Peace be upon you”.