It is perhaps not accidental that the Times Register, in which the Faith page appears, is also the section of obituaries. Obituaries are written when a life is completed, and an assessment can be made, of attributes and achievements, of the meaning and purpose lived out in this particular history of this unique person. A good spiritual exercise, often used for evaluating candidates for ordination, is to be asked to write one’s own obituary, to judge what one would wish to have said about one’s life at the end. Honestly done, this can be a sobering exercise and point towards the choices that have to be made if that obituary is to be true in reality not just in aspiration.
Life can be interpreted only after it has been experienced, and our own history informs our understanding of the future. For Kierkegaard our human project was to become that man or woman whom we are after the image of Christ. Jesus was the one who is “the proper man”, the one who is, in St Paul’s words, “the image of the invisible God” who made us in love for Himself. It is He who is the key to what it is to be truly human, and His history therefore becomes our history too. As year after year the Church celebrates the life of Christ, Christians enter into the meaning of His birth, His life and teaching, His death and resurrection. Week by week as the word is preached, the Eucharist is celebrated, and Christ’s life is received in the sacrament, the meaning and pattern of our life is given.
Christian hymn writers have seen the providence of God at work in their lives as they look backwards. Joseph Addison praises the God who cared for him “before my infant heart conceived from whence those comforts flowed”, and who kept him safe “in the slippery paths of youth. . . Thine arm unseen conveyed me safe, and led me up to man.” John Keble, knowing that same providential grace, sees our waking each morning as a sacrament of God’s presence, “through sleep and darkness, safely brought, restored to life and power and thought”, with each day bringing new opportunities through the trivial round and the common task for the one thing needful, “a road to bring us daily nearer God”.
Read it all (requires subsciption).