Thursday, 17 September 2009

Death is nothing?

In a recent discussion with someone about their funeral the person requested the reading ,"Death is nothing at all" by Henry Scott-Holland, who happens to be an ancestor of an ordinand in my church.

Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet

Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918, Canon of St Paul's

I'm not alone among many clergy in disliking this text because it appears to deny the brutal reality of death, and so dilute the amazing promise of resurrection.

So I was delighted to find an essay that explored Scott-Holland's theology and indicated that he wrote this as an example of what not to think as part of a larger sermon about death and resurrection. Isn't it odd how the things that are remembered can be so far from the point?

Apparently this is the most requested page on one of 'pick-your-own-funeral-readings' web sites and I think it speaks to much of the generic spirituality that is such a feature of our culture, especially among those of indeterminate faith.

Every time I see this text I want to ask people to go away and do some genuine investigation into the promises of faith, not cod-theology or arguments from detractors whose own understanding is so often so very twisted and misrepresentative. And I find myself frustrated by my calling to explain, and the sheer impossibility of reaching all who need to hear, because people can't hear if they won't listen; and by the time they really want answers they are often in the maelstrom, where the simple answer is to click on google and find... that death is nothing at all. I wonder how many people who use that text actually agree with it? Or whether they find it be as emtpy and platitudinous as I do?

I can't remember where I found this quote now, but I liked it enough to keep it.

Faith is neither the final product of an intellectual process nor an irrational leap supported by inner conviction, but an act of will which unites inner conviction and the intellectual process, an act which begins with our own self-awareness. Faith requires confidence in the experience of our own interior personality, and herein lies its certainty. ...we cannot believe in God unless we first believe in ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Thought for the Day on R4 this morning covered the same ground - it is All Souls Day today.