Wednesday, April 10, 2002

St. John Climacus, whose Ladder of Divine Ascent is customary reading for Orthodox Lent, said that "the thought of death is the most essential of all works." I'm not sure if this is what he had in mind. Clicking through the program and watching the seconds count down at the end gives rise to all kinds of thoughts, like "What am I doing wasting time on the computer?" and "You mean Mom was right about fresh air and vegetables all along?" For St. John, by contrast, the remembrance of death did not mean to worry about how much or how little time was left. He wanted his readers to realize that death comes for us all and that facing death meant facing hard facts about yourself, about the world, about God. I should find this much easier than I do. My job as a prosecutor consists in finding out hard facts and rubbing the guilty party's nose in them. Farm life means living with the reality of death. Some lambs will not survive their first days. Some ewes will die giving birth. Behind it all is the knowledge that you are not raising meat animals as pets.

I sometimes think that the mania for "End Times" speculation in some Christian circles comes when we forget death. After all, we are all only a heartbeat away from our own personal apocalypse. If we truly understood this, we might be more worried about loving God and our neighbor, and a less concerned with identifying the Antichrist.