Monday, September 3, 2012

Death and A Heart of Wisdom

Today's Mass readings include a passage from Psalms 90: 12 that states, "Teach us to number our days, that we might get a heart of wisdom".  The sentence caught hold of me, gripped me, and wouldn't let go.  It demanded that I reflect on it, absorb it, meditate on it, and weave it into the fabric of my very existence.  The Psalmist seems to be saying that the very essence of wisdom is knowing that you are a finite creature whose end may come at any time.  What role does confronting death play in wisdom?

Changing your perspective

The first time I confronted death not as an abstract concept but as something that would come to me sooner rather than later, it was enough to totally change my perspective on life. Suddenly I looked at the world through a different lens. I focused on different things.  My concern became not about how much I could gain, or how much money I could make, but about what the point of gaining things was and toward what end I was making money anyway. I became less concerned about being well-known and more concerned about who would know me, why, and what they would remember about my life.

Changing your priorities

The first thing I did when I thought that my death was not far away was to go home and revise my "bucket" list.  I'd been keeping it since junior high, and it was a list of about one hundred things I wanted to do before I died.  I'd started writing it on the advice of books like Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking.  It contained a lot of mostly self-centered, frivolous things, like traveling the world or going on a cruise.  With death on my shoulder, however, and my newly formed perspective I was able to see that list in light of what it was and tore it up.  My new list was far more meaningful, and much shorter.  Confronting death helped me to figure out what really mattered, and what didn't.

Giving you a sense of urgency

When death has knocked on your door and left a notice that he'll return to collect you soon, you know you don't have a whole lot of time to waste.  You wake up to the fact that your 60 hour work week is robbing you and your children of precious time together, time that can't be replaced no matter how much money you may be making and you quit that job to find one that demands less of your time.  You don't wait to tell your children, your spouse, your brother or your sister, or your friend that you love them because there may not be time to do it later. You start to live your life as completely as possible each day, because you know that tomorrow may not come.

Seeking Hope

It's when we're confronting death that we often begin to seek hope that the end isn't really the end after all, but just a new beginning.  Even if we've never had a relationship with God, or if we're antagonistic toward Him because of negative experiences in our past, we begin to reconsider.  He, after all, is the promise of eternal life, the promise that our death doesn't have to be meaningless and that it doesn't have to be the end.

I think, in the end, that this is what the Psalmist means when he asks the Lord to teach him to number his days that he might gain a heart of wisdom.  He understands that it is the confrontation with our own finite nature that causes us to seek out the infinite source of both life and wisdom.  What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below and let me know. I look forward to hearing from you :).

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