"Is a..." We think of what persons are in terms of the state of life they are in. On my commute 'bus there are not many small children - they go on special school 'buses in most cases - nor mothers who are at home taking care of family all day (a vanishing breed, alas!) - ours is a commuter schedule.
But of course no one is anything like a system administrator (myself), a housewife (Susan), except momentarily. I once was a linguistic lecturer. I once was a student. I once was, for the matter of that, a foetus in my mother's womb.
And I will be an old man - and then - what? a corpse? a disembodied soul? A (God grant it!) resurrected glorified citizen of the New Jerusalem?
Our typical idea of a life is:
- go to school, to learn to be something (doctor, lawyer)
- be that for 50 years, whilst raising a family
- get old, retire, die
The good bit is in the middle. That is what we aim for in life. Before that is the getting-ready part; after that is the over-the-hill bit.
I do not think this is the way we ought to see it.
I remember reading something once - maybe 25 or more years ago - about an Episcopalian private school in Texas. I don't recall the details, of course, but one thing the headmaster was quoted as saying struck me very powerfully - so much so that I fear I irritated my children by preaching it as a kind of slogan for a while. Asked what the primary aim of his high school was, the headmaster said that he wanted to teach young people how to die.
For this is, indeed, the point of our life. It isn't those 50 years of being something that counts. It is what they - and the 20 years before them and the unknown number of years after them before dying - it is what these years do to prepare us for what we call the end - which is, after all, only the beginning.
And that end-or-beginning can be quite surprising. We ourselves will, perhaps, be quite astonished at what we are. The classic death-bed conversion is a very real thing, I am sure, but for most of us, it is what we have practised through our lives that will matter.
And what we must practise above all is humility.
It is my suspicion that if - which God forbid! - at the end I do not turn my face toward, rather than away from, the Face which, to see, will be happiness itself, it will be because of my pride. It will be because I have it all worked out, how I will face death, the plans I will pass on for my funeral, the ideas I will have about my last Confession - all those plans of mine - yet the 'thief on the Cross' had no plans (Luke 23:40-43):
40But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.Looking back at what I have written, I wonder: is it morbid? depressing?
43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
I think not. I am, indeed, talking to myself here. I strive to do my work well - and love my recreations - my horn-playing, my reading. I love my wife and children and try to do my best for them. I enjoy my glass of wine.
But these things are not the end - not only not the end in the sense of the last thing, but not the end in the sense of not the finality, not the point of my life. I wish I lived more each moment as one aware that for me, the Second Coming of Christ will be - well, any time now - or in 20, or even 30 years. But that is the goal. That is what I seek to be preparing for.
And my preparation must be, above all, setting aside - at least, setting aside as if they are of first importance - my plans, my ideas, my goals.
Thy will be done.