The Art of Dying

The Art of Dying March 24, 2015

There is a difference between Christian music and music flushed with a theological project. The former has arrived at Christianity, and sings about it. The latter is on the way, and singing. The Collection are the latter.

North Carolinian, 7+-membered, horn-fattened, string-glazed indie rock. Their newish album: Ars Moriendi. The whole thing rich with that holy-s*%*-I-believe-in-Jesus-what-should-I-do-now-probably-not-just-play-Xbox kind of lyricism. Written as a meditation on the suicide of a friend (and on the problem of death as a whole) the album ends up as a christocentric, doubt-tinged Q&A with an often unanswering Godhead. The main question:

Is this the end? Are we in?
Do I watch all my friends just take dives off of cliffs
‘cause their heads are full of questions they can’t know now?

The album cover is the first giveaway that the Collection are chewing tougher gristle than most mainstream artists. A skull-faced woman sinks into a bed of flowers, surrounded by photographs and Mexican-section-of-the-grocery-store candles. (Always a pleasant surprise, when reaching for the enchilada sauce, to run into the tender-faced Christ holding his eviscerated, burning heart out to shoppers.)


The album takes its aesthetic from Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead, and both The Collection and the Mexican-Catholic tradition seem to understand this: Death cannot be obscured into something unproblematic, as if, for the Christian, kicking the bucket is just another step into an inevitable Heaven. Death is the problem. The human ape is that type of ape who knows he is going to die, the only thing in the physical universe with an expectation of The End.

Which is why, in The Collection’s song, “The Borrowers,” the herons, hares, birds and trees, ask and even condemn the man who walks among them: “Son of man, when will you go? Son of man, is it your choice?” Man, alone in the scalae natura, can wonder, “What if the plan is just to live till you die?”

So it’s no good ignoring the phenomenon that makes humanity unique, giving us terrifying, prophetic responsibility to know and speak about our death in a mute Cosmos that has utterly no idea it’s coming. Dress up like a skeleton, sleep on graves, bless dead bodies with holy water, light those candles. Practice an Art of Dying, a Habit of Fading, a meaningful relation towards death –live as the towards-death type of creature you are.  

The Collection, for their part, place their relation to death pretty fiercely in the person of Christ. It’s not an easy way:

a cross hangs around your neck so loose 
and though it brings you life, sometimes it feels just like a noose 
but god is not disappointed in you

But it enables the possibility of joy over death, because in Christ, we are saved from death:

I am roaming, and you are calling me back home. I have never felt that call so strong before 
and though my feet walk very slow, and there is death between my bones, I’ll make it home! 

It works like this: If Christ cannot die, and if we may enter into such a union with Christ as to become one with him, then neither will we die. The premises are controversial, but the syllogism is valid. Being one with the one who rises from the grave means rising from the grave. The Collection note as much: Christ is “growing us collectively into His wife.” So we become one with Christ by the becoming-one of love, as husband and wife become one marriage. He loves us (makes us one with Himself) that we might not die (having been made one with the Deathless One) but have eternal life. This, the numinous logic of salvation.    

For the Christian, the fear of death is changed from a trembling in the face of an unavoidable doom to a trembling over the possibility of not being in loving-unitive relation with the one who does not die. All things considered, I prefer the Christian trembling. No one may choose not to be annihilated by the unavoidable doom of death. We may certainly choose whether to love Jesus or not. Christianity, then, moves the fear of death into the sphere of freedom, which is only a fancy way of saying that Christianity gives us the possibility of doing something about death. We may choose to live.

Do yourselves a favor: Listen to The Collection. Let them drag you into a theological project with that way-too-big-band sound. And let me know what you think. And tell them thank you on their page.

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