Can you see the end of your life? I don’t mean imagining gruesome ends that cause fear and anxiety. But rather to be able to evaluate what kind of life you are living, and if it ended today, what would it really matter that you lived?
Last week in Patna, the capital of the Northern India state of Bihar, I indulged one of my stranger habits. With a colleague and his daughter, I visited a cemetery in search of 200 year old graves of Baptist missionaries in Patna. Why do I love walking through cemeteries? For the same reason I love reading obituaries in the newspaper.
I love learning more of the stories of the people who have died, searching for clues about them and the life they lived. It may surprise the reader how much can be learned from even the dates of birth and death on a gravestone. Even how well (or not) the grave is kept tells a story, including of course about the living!
As we walked the Patna cemetery last week, I noticed a grave very freshly dug and empty, probably ready for an internment the following day. (Photo included in this post). An empty grave can mean many things, and since it was two days after Easter, I was also reflecting on the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter morning.
But looking into an open grave also speaks of the need to regularly take stock of our life. How are we taking care (or not) of the key relationships in our life? Are there destructive habits in our lives that keep us from beauty and fullness? Are we living for eternity or only today’s desires and whims? Are we finding peace and joy, rightly related to the One in Three who loves us more than anyone has or ever will?
These are just some of the many questions that can grip us when we stand in front of an empty grave. There has been a regular practice in many monastic traditions of the Church, where the monks would actively consider the end of their life on earth. This was not to be morbid or collapse into a passivity of self-defeated stupor, but to gain fresh energy and perspective on the labors of today and tomorrow.
Perhaps we need to do more of that today. Can you see the end of your life? This is a practice that can be done by any age, any time. Try it today.