September 23, 2008
So Death is Coming...
"This sombre series of portraits taken of people before and after they had died is a challenging and poignant study. The work by German photographer Walter Schels and his partner Beate Lakotta, who recorded interviews with the subjects in their final days, reveals much about dying - and living." Life Before Death, a photo essay by Walter Schels.
Above is a sample of a moving, disturbing, poignant series of photos that my friend Lucy brought to my attention. I have viewed the entire series on several occasions and am captured by the stories of each of the subjects, for indeed they are our stories. (I encourage you to do the same by clicking here or go to www.guardian.co.uk and search "Life Before Death & Walter Schels.) We live a myth of immortality which, though disturbed by the inconvenient intrusion of death from time to time, we are surprisingly adept at maintaining. This series of photos causes us to pause not with a morbid voyerism but with an unambiguous acknowledgement that we too will pass this way.
I found the wide variety of responses to death in those facing it squarely engaging. Some worldviews show through clearly (reincarnation, resurrection, anihilation, etc.) while others respond solely to the emotive power of the moment be it anger, great sadness, or ambivalence. In my experience with those facing death or walking this shadowed path with a loved one there is an equally wide ranging set of responses. I am often surprised by this as the vast majority of those I serve in these moments are immersed in a Christian worldview, yet thier responses in these moments are anything but the Christian understanding of this event. (I will address this in a later post...)
Very often when I officiate (what an interesting term...from the Latin, to provide divine service) a funeral I remind those gathered that this is a moment for solemn reflection as they too will someday have their name at the head of an obituary column. What then is to be done with the life we are given to live? Moses put his request before God in these words, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12).
So, death is coming. An unavoidable question arises, are you, am I, living in such a manner as to be fully prepared for this approaching moment?