CommunityPeopleRon Baker

From our latest issue: Ars Moriendi

By Ron Baker.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we are all mortal.

This was brought home to me when one of my friends passed away recently. With social distancing, we had not been able to coffee these past weeks. Then he passed away, from a heart attack – not a virus or complications from exposure to a virus. Just a heart attack.
I was called on to officiate the graveside service. To celebrate a life!

There is a clinical approach to death and dying that we are seeing with COVID-19. The flattening of the curve, the sanitizing of the hands, the counselling towards mental health, economic stabilization attempts, even orchestrated announcements to calm the storm.

But death is not just technology and science. There is a place for the art of dying. A place where the soul of a person prepares, perseveres and finally finds paradise.

In 1347-1353 the Bubonic Plague hit – probably the worst pandemic to ever attack Western Europe. People cared for people – the death rate washjigh. The estimation is that 50% of Roman Catholic priests succumbed.

In 1415 a picture book was printed (a shortened version came out a few decades later). The title was “Ars Moriendi” – “The Art of Dying”. Sanctioned by the church, the book became a best seller!

“Ars Moriendi” talked of bringing calm to the trauma of death. There were temptations that the dying face, from a lack of belief in a good God, to self-important pride, thinking that a person is good enough on their own to deserve heaven. Seven questions were to be asked of the dying to help them ascertain their own readiness for death. Care-givers were to pray for, to counsel and to walk with the person in their death.

With a lack of spiritual directors for people’s lives, the care of souls was, by default, handed to those who would lead the dying to a peaceful and profitable death. This included the landlords and regional leaders. The book was, in one way, an attempt to hand off the care of souls to other than the ordained clergy.

We have lost the art of dying. We have lost the art of being a significant part of the lives of those who are dying. There seems to be no thought of addressing the deep quest that humans have for eternal significance and love. We just put people in the ground. And we move on – to what?

The art of dying is really the art of living. God is in it – which may bring fear to some. Where people have walked from the dark side of fear to the bright side of fear, by faith there is an unshakable conviction that all is well. And in the end, death is really just the beginning of a new life.

Could we say that the art of dying is really truth, beauty and happiness all rolled into one?

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