My youngest cousin on my mother’s side passed away yesterday from a brain aneurysm. She was only 50 years old. This is the song that comes to mind, a poem without words: A Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Yesterday, All Soul’s Day, shortly after midnight Sr. Sarah’s mother went home to the Lord. She was able to be with her when she died. Just an hour or so ago Sr. Sarah shared with me this excerpt from a book of meditations based on St. Francis de Sales. It is a great comfort to her. May it be a comfort for all of you:
Death is a benefactor, who tears away the veil that separates us from God; it is the hand that closes our eyes to open to us the fatherland; it is the sunshine, the spring sunshine, which breaks the envelope of the humble chrysalis, to give it the wings and the flight of the butterfly; it is according to the expression of Holy Scripture and of the Church, the sleep which prepares us for an immortal awakening; it is the beginning of true life; it is the leap of the child into the arms of its Father. Let us then be consoled. (Lieutenant-Colonel M. De S., Draw Near to God)
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I am reading a new biography of Hudson Taylor, one of my two all-time favorite protestant missionaries. Hudson was a missionary to China in the late 19th century. It isn’t my favorite biography of him, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the title: It is not Death to Die. That line is a quote from Pilgrim’s Progress. When, at the end of Valiant’s life, he crosses over to the Father’s House, “all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side. IT IS NOT DEATH TO DIE.” We’ve had a lot of deaths affect us in our house in the last six months: residents at our Emmanuel Houses, the death of a very good friend, a sister of one of our Sisters, the mother of another one. We have been staring death in the face constantly these days. The title of the Taylor biography is a good reminder of the truth, that in Christ, death is really only apparent. It is not death to die.
And that reminded me of the title of a biography of my other favorite protestant missionary, Amy Carmichael. Elisabeth Elliot write a life of her named A Chance to Die. In the preface to her book, Elisabeth writes about the debt she owes to Amy Carmichael–I feel a similar debt–how she “met” her at age fourteen by reading her books. From her preface:
The first of her books that I read was, I think, If, which became her best-seller. It was not written for teenagers, but for seasoned Christians with the solemn charge of caring for the souls of others. It was from the pages of this thin blue book that I, a teenager, began to understand the great message of the Cross, of what the author called “Calvary love.” I saw the chance to die, to be crucified with Christ was not a morbid thing, but the very gateway to Life. I was drawn–slowly, fitfully (my response was fitful, but inexorably. (emphasis added)
I pray to be drawn even more inexorably into this frame of mind, looking for those chances to die to self, confidently knowing that it is not death to die.