Have you ever thought about how much photography is about life and not about death? We are uncomfortable with death in our culture. While there is some imagery about death in nature, it tends to be either dramatic African predators killing prey (or something like it) or a rather psychologically distant image of a dead tree trunk.
I thought a lot about this as my father died earlier this month. His doctor said something that is so basic that it is obvious, yet so against our culture that it is not often said — dying is a natural process of life and my dad was slowly doing something that we are all supposed to do at some time.
This does not mean this is an easy thing. I was sad to see my dad go, though given his serious health issues, I was also glad to see him at peace. But it also made me think that if dying is a natural process of life, then it is something God has given us as part of life. If as Christians we truly believe that death is a passage to being with God, then death is also a sacred moment, a moment to be honored.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel said this about sacred moments, “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”
I really wanted to be with dad as he died. That was important to me and I was blessed to have had that opportunity. I know that our culture does not want to accept witnessing death as a blessing, but I have learned that it can be. And a sacred moment to be faced.
I spent some time in the Maine woods near where my parents lived as my dad died. At this time of year, you cannot help but see the passing of much life as winter starts to come. Of course, we know that a leafless tree in late fall is not about death because the tree will “come to life” again in the spring. But maybe that is a good metaphor for our own mortality. As we age, our bodies change dramatically, just like the tree in fall. Then the winter of death comes, only to be revived as a spring as we find our way to God after death.
Psalm 89:48 says, “What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?” I think now that this means that life and death are part of the same process. Because of this, death can teach us to recognize what is really important in the world. I know that God used my dad’s death to help me better understand this very, very important lesson. And to recognize what a sacred moment death is.