Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mortality and Advent

For those of you who still yearn for more about Christopher Hitchens, don't miss the great essay by Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post.  She talks about meeting Christopher Hitchens as they prepared to appear on a news show, as they got their make-up done, "the objectifying ritual of having one’s countenance applied in the presence of another’s conveys a sort of detached intimacy.  'At last we meet,' he said, as though this were the one thing missing from his otherwise rich life."


She refers us to this essay by Christopher Buckley, which is a wonderful good-bye of one friend to another.  This chunk was my favorite: 

"Lunch—dinner, drinks, any occasion—with Christopher always was [bracing]. One of our lunches, at Café Milano, the Rick’s Café of Washington, began at 1 P.M., and ended at 11:30 P.M. At about nine o’clock (though my memory is somewhat hazy), he said, 'Should we order more food?' I somehow crawled home, where I remained under medical supervision for several weeks, packed in ice with a morphine drip. Christopher probably went home that night and wrote a biography of Orwell. His stamina was as epic as his erudition and wit."

Now there's a remembrance!  When I die, I hope my friends remember me similarly:  she ate and drank with great abandon, she was fun, she was smart, I never wanted to leave her presence.

It's been a strange, strange Advent here, as Decembers so often are of late in my life.  I've been sick, my spouse has been sick, my grandmother has been VERY sick . . . in short, mortality has been on my brain, even before the death of Christopher Hitchens.

Some people would decry my thoughts on death during the season of Christmas.  But I would argue that Christmas always has that undertone of mortality.  Those of us who get blue at Christmas are often sad because we're missing people who aren't part of our lives anymore, we're missing our childhoods, we're missing a time when Christmas meant more, we're missing the people who are part of our lives but who are very far away.  In the northern hemisphere, the season shifts into winter, a time when it's hard to ignore the final part of life's cycle.

And I'm a Lutheran, a liturgical Christian, and December is not the Christmas season for me so much as it's the Advent season.  And Advent is a time of looking forward and staying alert.  Advent is an eschatological time in the Church, a time when we think about end times, but not so much in terms of apocalypse and the ruin of the earth, but in terms of salvation and new beginnings.  My religious tradition does not believe that God will rapture us all before destroying the earth, but that God breaks through incarnationally into our normal lives and invites us to be part of the redemption of creation.

My grandmother goes towards her final exam (as Gail Godwin beautifully visioned the last days of an illness in her achingly beautiful novel, The Good Husband).  I'm struck by elements of her small town life, elements that most of us won't experience ever again.  For example, my grandmother's doctor has made lots of time for my parents and uncle to talk about what's right to do; yesterday alone, they conferred for three hours.  Three hours!  Suffice it to say that my doctors wouldn't do that--they can hardly make time for me, in this era of booking multiple appointments at the exact same 15 minute slot.

My grandmother's funeral service, whether it comes soon or years from now, will be at the church where my grandfather was pastor for decades, the church where my parents were married, the church were my spouse and I were married.  She will be buried in Lexington, South Carolina, in the graveyard of the Lutheran church that's across the road from my grandfather's family farmlands.

Those farmlands are now surrounded by strip malls and suburbia.  When I was young, those farmlands seemed very far away from what I would have called civilization.  When I was young, they were far away.

How many of us still have that kind of connection to land, to place, to one church?

And yes, I understand that those kind of connections can be VERY stifling.  Still, I feel a bit of sadness that so many of us are rootless and unbound.

So, here we are, a week away from Christmas Eve.  Will it be a week of festive baking and meals with friends?  Or will it be a week with a trip back to the family homeland?  Or will it be both?  It is Advent after all, the time of promises kept, Messiahs becoming incarnate, the now and the not yet of redemption.


Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Kristin,
I've awarded your blog a Liebster Blog Award. You don't need to participate in the process if you don't want to, but thank you for all the wonderful content you've provided this past year. Best, Jessica Goodfellow

Kristin said...

Wow! Thanks for the award. I'm honored.