As we come to the end of another year it's perhaps not inappropriate to think about one of the few unmentionables in our culture-death. In today's Guardian newspaper there is a leader which begins,
In these final days of the year, many will fall to thinking of those lost in the course of it, from the famous – John Dankworth, Jean Simmons, Michael Foot, Charles Mackerras and Beryl Bainbridge have been among the conspicuous departed of 2010 – to the recently dead among their own families and friends.How we deal with the prospect of death in some ways defines us. As a Christian believer I don't pretend that at times the thought of my own death doesn't unsettle me, and yet I have a fundamental conviction that because Christ conquered death I too can have great hope beyond the grave.
I've been reading John Newton's letters to his adopted daughter whilst she was at boarding school,
'You sometimes intimate that you are afraid of death, I wonder not at it. For you are a sinner and I hope to see you a believer, and then you will not greatly fear it, while it is at a distance, and whenever it is comes very near you will not fear it at all. Mr Harris and is gone and so is Mr Campion, and neither of them was more afraid of death, than you would be afraid of a coach that should stop at the gate and take you home to us. Jesus died to make death safe and comfortable to us'The coach at the gate? A lovely thought.
That most secular of publications, The Guardian, ends its editorial which had mostly been concerned with an interesting guest feature on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme about cemeteries, with the rather surprising thought,
Ms Athill and Mr Naughtie were guided round Highgate by a volunteer, herself in her 80s, one of those who in graveyards great and small across the land have redeemed past neglect and made these rewarding places in which to wander, to meditate and to be serious.
Wandering, meditating and being serious about death is not a forté of our culture.