Eternity now

I conducted a funeral last week. It was for a man I cherished as a friend and wise elder. I may have been his pastor this last decade, but he enlarged my spirit far more than I ever nurtured his. Under the current restrictions, the gathering was small: just ten members of his family and me. Truth be told, those who mourned his death could have filled an auditorium. Instead, we were just a few. 

My friend was a man of the church. He had given 60+ years of devoted service to Collins Street. But he was more than the church. He was a man of family, of work in local and state government and of civic duty. He provided leadership to community and sporting organisations throughout his life. While he possessed a faith — a very genuine faith — he was not a pious man. In the words of his wife, there was no “pie in the sky” for which he hungered. For him the way of Christ was a way to live, and this he did with genuine delight and an integrity hard to match.  

One of the privileges of leading funerals is the routine recognition it provides that death is part of life’s story. I cannot look away. Life and death go hand in hand. Benedict of Nursia (AD 480-547), the founder of a spiritual community that survives to the present day, instructed his monks to “keep death daily before one’s eyes.” This was not a morbid exhortation, rather an encouragement to cherish life from beginning to end as the extraordinary and eternal gift that it is. 

The contemporary Benedictine David Steindl-Rast underlines this truth: 

“The finality of death is meant to challenge us to decision, the decision to be fully present here now, and so begin eternal life. For eternity rightly understood is not the perpetuation of time, on and on, but rather the overcoming of time by the now that does not pass away.” 

Brother David Steindl-Rast, “Learning to Die,” in Parabola 2, No. 1 (Winter 1977).

Today my friend is gone from us and we grieve. But the ‘now’ of his life lives on in a world that is richer for his presence. For me the language of eternity is a language of mystery: what lies beyond is beyond my knowing. What I do know, however, is that eternity begins each and every day and its beauty is ours to grasp in the smallest details of our lives. This my friend did with a style all his own and I’ll never forget him for it.

4 Comments

  1. Love what you wrote about your friend . Isn’t it glorious you will be reunited again. (I couldn’t just read this and delete it)

  2. Wise words for our times Simon Carey Holt – where fear of death abounds and we are grieving of the death of our way of life and plans for the future. I believe there are but two times where God dwells – the everpresent now and the everpresent eternity. The past we see is merely the interaction of our present self with our recollections and the future we see is the projection of our current dreams and fears.
    Perhaps this was the essence of all temptation – focusing on the past and future – “Did God really say …” and “if you do this the future will be better …”. Jesus resisted temptation in the desert by being fully attuned to God in the everpresent now.

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