Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Death Where is Thy Sting?

Yesterday one of our sisters died. Despite her death it was largely a day like any other. Death is not something rare, unusual, or to be feared in the monastery. Death is an absolute, integral part of life. We accept it, ritualize it and give it meaning. In doing so we honor the death of our sister and the life that she led.

When someone is approaching death we put up an announcement on the board. We invite community members to come sit with the sister who is dying, to pray with her and for her as she prepares to go home to God. We try to honor her wishes at this time, whether for certain types of prayers and songs or for quiet and silence.

We try to keep vigil, ensuring that the dying sister has someone sitting with her throughout the night, to accompany on her journey home. Dying is seldom easy, any more than living. Some people slip away quietly, many struggle to make the transition.

As soon as the sister dies the bells are tolled, a slow, solemn ringing as an announcement to the world of someone passing from death to life. An announcement goes up on the board and word spreads quickly. Many people come by to say last good-byes. Plans for funeral arrangements begin to be made.

In the meantime life goes on in all its ordinariness. Dishes need to be washed. The community gathers for prayer. There is mail to be picked up. Meetings happen on schedule. Plans are made for the future. It may look callous to outsiders, this lack of drama around death, but this is the witness of the monastic way. Death isn’t an end, it is a homecoming, it is the goal of all monastics, to reach everlasting life. In the midst of life we rejoice in our sister who has reached her goal and in our ordinary lives we too continue to press on to the same goal.

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