Spiritual direction at the end of the world (2)

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

Keep the reality of death always before your eyes.

Wisdom from the Monastery: The Rule of St Benedict for everyday life, Ch 4, p. 22

Death writ large

I paused yesterday with these questions: How can I prepare for an uncertain future? How do I want to live in the face of catastrophe? How might I prepare and support my children, grandchildren, godchildren, and other youngsters? How might I best serve the world at this time? How do I support and challenge those who come for spiritual direction when I am also scared and at a loss?

To my mind, these are perennial questions writ large. They are the realities we all face, but with a far greater scope: life is always uncertain; each of us will die; our personal deaths are catastrophic interruptions of our lives and of the lives of those we love and who love us.

There is my own death to think about, i.e. the end of my personal, individual world. There is the potential extinction of humanity, which I think is unlikely, though human society may look very different in the not-too-distant future. There is the recognition that humanity is time-limited, however and whenever the end comes. My life is a brief span in Your eyes. The life-span of humanity is also brief in the difficult-to-imagine time-line of the Universe. There is a lot of precedence for the extinction of even the most successful species when conditions change. It has always been the case that humankind will become extinct one day. In terms of the life of the Universe and life on Earth, we’ve not been around very long and we will be long gone before the end.

How do we to live and serve in the face of death? How might this question find new scope in the context of a climate and social collapse?

How do we prepare for a world that is much less supportive of the human experiment?

I continue to believe that our peculiar contribution to Creation is the ability consciously to relish existence. So whether we have a long or a short time, it is still our purpose to relish being. Is this what Jesus meant when he talked about storing up riches in Heaven? We usually conceive of storing up riches as a kind of acquisition, an attempt at immortality, even when that is collecting experiences, as some (often travel companies) suggest, rather than possessions. But maybe Heaven or Being or Eternity is enriched when we relish the surprising miracle of being alive experienced in the quotidian. I am God having a Julian-shaped experience; I am Being (aka God) relishing existence in this little scrap of life.

Finally, there is the God question. What might that be? When we take the long-view we see that the human is a brief episode in the life of the Universe. How do we understand the God for whom the human is merely one species amongst many, and for whom the Earth is one planet amongst unimaginable numbers of Earth-like planets in the Universe? How do we understand ourselves in the economy of God within which the human is a small component? What does prayer and relationship with God entail in this viewpoint?

How do we live (both emotionally/psychologically and in what we do) with not being able to answer these questions?

Part 3, Living with death, tomorrow.

Middleton-in-Teesdale in the snow
Middleton-in-Teesdale in the snow (Photo by Julian Maddock)

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