Dead you will lie and never memory of youSunday was All Souls Day and at my parish, the Bishop of Nashville was celebrating the Mass. I remember quite well his homily that tied together this passage from the Book of Wisdom:
will there be nor desire into the aftertime - for you do not share in the roses
of Pieria, but invisible too in Hades' house
you will go your way among dim shapes. Having been breathed out.
- Sappho (ca. 630 B.C.E.)
tr. by Anne Carson
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,It was such a hope-filled sermon, one that dealt not on the sorrows and grievances of the living, but rather on the peace of the dead. Rituals do serve a purpose and the Bishop pointed out that far from being "foolish," sacred rites and practices honoring the dead and the hope that their souls are at peace with God serve many high purposes, including a centering of our lives around the central mystery of the Christian faith.
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
There is something about death and how it is observed and attended to that has fascinated me for years. There is such a sudden break that appears to occur between the Living and the Formerly Living. People who cannot stand to be in the presence of a corpse, as if there is the threat of some profane desecration. Others will marvel at how the living deal with the unspoken, heavy presence of the dead in their memories and emotions. How did we come to create such a central ritual around the passage of a consciousness (or if you prefer, a life, since consciousness is debatable in some circles)? How have these rituals varied over time and space and how have they come to bear close relationships in many cases?
These are but few of the questions that occurred to me after I pondered the Bishop's homily. Another one that only is tangentially related is that of how are these intense private/public rituals surrounding Death ever going to be represented well in fiction, particularly speculative fiction? Does the skillful author create his/her own Death ritual, or are elements of various "real world" death rites borrowed wholesale for inclusion as warranted in spec fic novels? What is so powerful about Death that it stands out more than most anything related to Life? Is Thanatos truly stronger than Eros?
What do you think?