When I stumbled across the saying “no man is an island” many years ago, it immediately resonated with me. I believe it means that in some way we are all connected, and that when one person dies, it affects us all. If we learn of death, whether it is someone we know or not, it has an impact that ranges from mild disturbance – a niggling at our sense of mortality – to shattering our world in cases of close connection or mass death so close to home.
Any brush with death or near death experience, or observation of accidents and injuries can have this same effect. For about a year now I have had an increased awareness of death and the brevity and fragility of life. Some of this was brought on by a few near wrecks while driving or by passing accidents on the road, as well as reflections on the way I have been living and not living.
This occasional and ongoing sense was heightened, perhaps divinely, by the sudden death yesterday of a church member where my mother attends. It is odd for this to have affected me so, for just a year and a half ago my stepfather passed away. Yet it is this recent death which topped off my awareness of my own mortality to the point of my cup running over.
I did not know until today, however, that three other people by association had also died yesterday. Earlier today I did the infamous open the bible and read what’s there, and it opened to Ecclesiastes chapters 7 – 9 and here is what I encountered:
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies—
so the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.
A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time. (Ecclesiastes 7 2-4)
None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle… (Ecclesiastes 8:8)
The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious… Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. (Ecclesiastes 9:3 & 6)
Utterly timely and, I believe, at the hand of God. Following yesterday’s church service about listening to God and hearing from God, I had been praying for Him to do just this. And so he did. And it was what was needed, for I have been in a long and progressive season of what traditional churches call “backsliding”, but what I define as a gradually increased distance from God and disconnect between us due to my actions and inaction. I have for too long neglected to meet with God to the point where it is painful to feel the gap.
So last night and today have been spiritually sobering for me and the end result is a turning within. This death, these deaths, and my own impending death have had a “refining influence” on me. I will not go into the spiritual work that occurred within me last night, but I have turned. I have turned towards God, recommitted myself to Him, and re-surrendered, or perhaps truly surrendered all for the first time.
I do not want to waste another day missing out on a relationship with God. I do not want to remain in a stagnant, purposeless life governed by inadequate self control and self leadership. Something new has happened in this ‘turning’. I look forward to the life brought on by the subject and nearness of death. Death, which is a servant of life, has pointed the way for me, its gruesome countenance admonishing me to turn around and face the countenance of my Savior and King.
We fear death, because it has the power to take life. But death also has the power to point us towards life, to create within us a paradigm shift if we will but think and respond. It is counterintuitive for most of us, but as the Ecclesiastical writer states, it is foolish to not think upon death and let it refine us unto life. And it is wise to let the message of death sink in, and to let the only One who conquered death and rose from it bring us into true and lasting, pure and eternal life.
That life leads to death is an ever present sorrow. Yet there is hope, for death leads to life.