Facing Death

Here’s a link to the Photography Blog of the Dallas Morning News, where the photo editor asks if pictures of the dead from open-casket funerals should be published. Two pictures are included: a close-up of the mother kissing her dead son, and a longer, wider shot with the casket slightly out of focus. The editor says newspapers are reluctant to run such photos.
The deceased is Army Spc. Pedro A. Millet Meletiche, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan on August 22. He was 20 years old.
Our mainstream culture likes to ignore death. Pause for a moment of silence so no one can say you’re disrespectful and then get back to work, back to shopping, back to partying, back to pretending that our day to die will never get here.
Some of my earliest memories are of going to funerals. Great aunts and uncles, a grandmother, elders in our church… it seemed like someone was always dying. People grieved and mourned, but they turned out. And they didn’t shy away from talking about death.
I have to think their religion had a lot to do with it. They were (as far as I know) all Christians and they talked about going to heaven and meeting Jesus and being reunited with their relatives who had died. They didn’t get into a lot of doctrine and they didn’t talk much about the “saved” and “unsaved” (unlike the preacher at my father’s funeral in 2000), just the comfort of a faith everyone acknowledged even if not everyone gave it a lot of serious thought.
Our mainstream culture calls itself Christian but it bears little resemblance to either the Christianity I grew up with or to the teachings of Jesus. It has lost its faith in heaven but has not replaced it with the confidence of the humanist who can say “there is only this life and it is enough.”
Or with the confidence of the mystic who can say “I don’t know what comes after death, but I have experienced Love, and I am certain that whatever comes next will be good.”
When we ignore death we allow our fear to fester like an untreated wound. Our denials allow that fear to grow and at the same time gives us an excuse to spend day after day chasing the vain materialism and shallow spirituality of the mainstream world.
As Pagans, may we show the world a better way. May we honor the dead – publicly, visually, loudly – and may we live our lives in full awareness that one day the Cailleach will come for us.
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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.


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