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Date:11/27/2014 10:53:21 PM
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Thanatopsis (meditation upon death)
Now comes the ending of the year; where light and life dims to its nadir, and one can only hope against hope for a new year of renewal. It is not for nothing that at this time of year, all cultures seek to remind themselves that the Sun will return and dormant life will spring once again. "All that tread the globe are but a handful to the tribes that slumber in its bosom." -- William Cullen Bryant. Various peoples throughout history would light bonfires at this time to express defiance in the face of darkness and to express hope for yet another Spring.

The oft-unspoken, yet overriding thought at the Winter Solstice is of death. We humans are the only beings who are aware of our own impending demise. As a result, we are moved to fear it. As Shakespeare so eloquently described it in Hamlet's Soliloquy, "_ay, there's the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause."

We who are Christians are promised everlasting life; yet instead of being a cause for joy, our faith causes some of us to dread what they believe is a final judgment. Dies Irae, Day of Wrath, is a hymn that describes this sentiment: "Day of wrath and doom impending." Yet even this hymn returns to the theme of forgiveness:

"Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgment must prepare him;
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them thine eternal rest. Amen."

Regardless of one's personal beliefs, the following verses from William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis" holds true:

"As the long train of ages glide away, the sons of men, the youth in life's green spring, and he who goes in the full strength of years, matron and maid, the speechless babe, and the gray-headed man shall one by one be gathered to thy side by those, who in their turn shall follow them."

As for me, while I think that I could find comfort in the Naturalism of Bryant, I, as a Catholic Christian, believe in something more. I quote the thoughts of a fellow Christian, Elizabeth McGloin Browne, who was moved to express this about death and loss: "Since the loss of my twin sons and dad in the same year (2011), I no longer think of those who have died and say "I loved them". Instead I think and say, "I love them". It is current and ever present in my life."

This defines my beliefs as well. "Death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:56) Keep the faith, my friends. -- Gary
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