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Hallo again to all.

Anything can do it, really, from a change of seasons or the death of a friend, a story in the morning newspaper, a birthday, the verse of a hymn. The most serious incident or the most trivial thing can grab us and remind us that death is, indeed, in the midst of life: 'Oh, you again!'

Blessed with good health, we've never had a close personal encounter with mortality. We recognise that the experience of a life-threatening illness can bring Brother Death to life in a way that no abstract rumination can. But ever since our early twenties, we've tried to live with a metaphorical skull on our desk, an Elizabethan conceit that served well as a visible reminder of the little limit of life. This skull-on-the-desk sounds a sober and sombre business, but we've found that the more we bear in mind the thin thread that life hangs on, the more precious time becomes. It affects the choices we make for what we do with our leisure time, with our talents, such as they are, with our money -- and our bad moods, for that matter.

Now we realise with all this business of 'the night cometh', one can get rather prot about the whole matter, somehow equating quantity of work -- some measurable pile of accomplishments -- with currying favour with God. Certainly an awareness of vita brevis can breed a grim puritanical personality, the last thing that adds gaiety or grace to life. The nineteenth century, for example, abounds in examples of relentlessly pious persons doing their duty to the deserving poor, a far cry from Our Lord's proclamation that He came that all of us might have more abundant Life. Whatever living with an awareness of the shortness of life means, we're quite certain it isn't about sterile 'good works'.

It's a very Anglican business, this matter of living with a sense of death and a keen joy in life. It requires one to find the via media between those two great realities. We do our best, but we realise how easily we can slip. We can easily 'kill time' in silly and insignificant activities ('Here I am, enjoying abundant life!) or we can labour too strenuously, to the point of wearing ourselves out ('Here I am, producing nobly before the night comes!). Neither is right and neither produces the sort of balanced life that enables, we suspect, the best-equipped saints in the service of Our Lord.

Someone once wrote that epitaphs on gravestones mistakenly highlight the dates of birth and death, rather than the dash between. The dash is the important thing; the life lived between the bookends of the beginning and the end. So we'll do our best to go on dashing, as it were, with all of you in the good fellowship with others in this slightly battered but still beloved Anglican Communion.

So, friends, every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mould.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.*

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 29 August 2004

*From Wendell Berry's Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

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