Friday, February 4, 2011

A Long Last Sleep

In this lovely garden in Kyoto (Japan) I found a little slice of heaven!

Cleaning my desk usually produces some interesting discoveries!
by Charlie Leck

“…out of the ground you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you will return”
[Genesis 3:19]

I spent part of last evening and this morning clearing and cleaning my desktop. There usually and eventually comes along some motivating factor that demands I do it. The current circumstance was the need to find a lost book that wasn’t replaced properly on my bookshelves. I needed it so I could fulfill a promise I’d made to someone about scanning a photograph of its cover. So, I began putting things away that had piled up in alpine-like form to my left, right and even out in front of me and back there behind my computer monitor. Here and there I found a stale cracker or some crumbs from something or other that had deteriorated amid these mountains. I quite expected that a horrible effluvium might also rise up at any time as I drove deeper and deeper into the clutter. It’s hard to believe it would take a few hours, but it did – and that gives you some idea of just how high these escarpments of material had become; but, of course, you know, I needed to pause from time to time to look over some forgotten modicum that I discovered and by which I was quite surprised.

And, if you don’t mind, I would like to share one of those curiosities with you! The unforeseen wonder comes in the form of two short articles that I had copied or printed-out from somewhere or another and had likely set aside so that I could one day write about them. One is an old, old article (1894) from the NY Times. The other is an article from an unlikely source – the Churches of God Outreach Ministry. I’ve tried to track both of these articles down on-line (so that I might give you a source notation), but I haven’t been able to find them through either Google or Bing. Or, perhaps, some reader sent or emailed them to me long, long ago in response to something I wrote.

I guess that’s a far longer introduction than any of you needed or wanted. Pardon me! Now, however, I am coming to the good part. I am going to retype for you the entire NY Times piece that the Times evidently lifted from Scribner’s Magazine. It is called THE LONG LAST SLEEP and it will give you something to think about (especially if you are getting up in years).

The Long Last Sleep

Familiarity with death is apt to alter one’s earlier conceptions of it. Two ideas are very generally accepted which experience shows to be false. One is that the dying usually fear death, and the other, that the act of dying is accompanied by pain. It is well known to all physicians that when death is near its terrors do not seem to be felt by the patient. Unless the imagination is stimulated by the frightful portrayal of the supposed “pangs of death,” or of the sufferings which some believe the soul must endure after dissolution, it is rare indeed that the last days or hours of life are passed in dread.

Oliver Wendell Holmes has recorded his protest against the custom of telling a person who does not actually ask to know that he cannot recover. As that loving observer of mankind asserts so must every one who knows whereof he speaks assert that people almost always come to understand that recovery is impossible; it is rarely needful to tell anyone that this is the case. When nature gives the warning, death appears to be as little feared as sleep.

Most sick persons are very, very tired; sleep—long, quiet sleep—is what they want. I have seen many people die. I have never seen one who seemed to fear death, except when it was, or seemed to be, rather far away. Even those who are constantly haunted, while strong and well, with a dread of the end of life forget their fear when that end is at hand.
[Scribner’s Magazine; published 7 October 1894 and copyright by the New York Times]

I find that comforting and imagine it to be statistically true, but let me turn now to the longer article from the Churches of God Outreach Ministries. (a sort-of portentous nom, mais non?). It is written by one James McBride. He begins by quoting the prophet, Woody Allan:

“It’s not that I’m afraid to die. It’s just that I don’t want to be there when it happens.”

McBride’s subtitle for the article is this: “It’s the cure for all diseases, so why fear it?” I like that. He should have quit there.

Mr. McBride appears to be working under the influence of this thesis: “Most, however, can’t believe that there’s nothingness beyond the ups and downs of life.” Then he quickly adds: “In fact, the whole concept of death, dying and the after-life is for the most part grossly in error.”

Ah-ha! Mr. McBride is going to set us straight! He declares that the Christian Bible provides “an authentic blue-print detailing what happens when we die.” All of this detail, he says, is summed up by King Solomon and reported in Ecclesiastes 9:5-6.

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love and their hatred and their envy have now perished. Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.”

However, McBride interjects that that is “not the end of the story.”

The writer mucks around with the idea of the soul’s dying as something quite apart from the death of the person or the body. The promise of scripture, he tells us, is that a grand awakening lies in store for those of us who are a part of the saving experience of accepting the Christ – that on the appointed day we shall rise to participate forever and ever in the spiritual Kingdom of God.

Oh, my! McBride writes a firm and stern concluding paragraph!

“The divine plan holds no fear for anyone – unlike the twisted concepts purveyed by the all-encompassing false religions which reject the inspired writings of the Christian Bible.”

Well, shut my mouth! And please, once I begin the long, long sleep, just let me slumber on forever. Cause, you know, I just never figured out who inspired the writings found in the Bible and just why whoever did would ever include some of the clap-trap that’s found there. As soon as one declares the Bible to be inspired one has closed off the possibility of understanding the great wisdom that is stored there.

Perhaps, if one day there is ever a memorial moment for me, you might read this essay aloud to those gathered. And, for heaven’s sake, make sure you gather in a comfortable spot and serve some good wine and terrific cheese and some marvelous French bread.

Sleep on it!


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