February 20, 2018

Memento Mori

Interesting that I read the following by Peter Hitchens (from his book “The Rage Against God”) so soon after a Mark Helperin passage about how Bach and Mozart wrote classical music that mixed joy and sorrow since for them death was omnipresent. 

Here Hitchens speaks of the time before he converted from atheism:

I sought out and preferred buildings without dark corners or any hint of faith in their shape..I did not know exactly what I was seeking or avoiding, but it was well described in John Buchan’s story Fullcircle. A character who lives in a seventeenth-century manor house muses by his library fire: 

In this kind of house you have the mystery of the elder England. What was Raleigh’s phrase? ‘High thoughts and divine contemplations.’ The people who built this sort of thing lived closer to another world, and thought bravely of death. It doesn’t matter who they were—Crusaders or Elizabethans or Puritans—they all had poetry in them and the heroic and a great unworldliness. They had marvellous spirits, and plenty of joys and triumphs; but they also had their hours of black gloom. Their lives were like our weather—storm and sun. One thing they never feared—death. He walked too near them all their days to be a bogey.

How close to what Helperin had his protagonist muse on in the novel “Paris in the Present Tense”: 

“The difference in the spirit of one age with the spirit of another,” he said, “despite the constancy of both nature and human nature, is legible in music. Death, pain, and tragedy still rule the world, though in the rich countries of the West we insulate ourselves from them as never before in history. But when death, pain, and tragedy were as immediate as they were to everyone, even the privileged, in the time of Bach and Mozart, you have darkness and light coexisting with almost unbearable intensity. Which is why in all of these great pieces... you have the tension between the most glorious, sunny exultation, and the saddest and most beautiful mourning.” 

I recalled recently about how terrifying it was as an 8-year old to consider there was a time before I was. Before I existed. That I was a state of nothingness with no consciousness. And I considered then the possibility that after this life there is no other and there’s a return to that nothingness.

The antidote is not to hold and grasp existence with a death-grip, as Christ cautioned against in saying that to lose our life would be to gain it. I am freed from terror from looking at the abyss of nothingness.

A tweet happened across my screen:

“Jesus saw a tax collector named Matthew...” (Lk 5)

“What do I have that you you pursue my friendship?”... (Lope de Vega)

Nothing you have attracts God, and by the nothing, you have everything; for in you having nothing he is drawn by love to give you everything.

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