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Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Tsang   
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 19:13

Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes (St. Benedict, 4.47)

In the Rule of St. Benedict, there is one instruction given in chapter 4 under the title, The Instruments of Good Works, and it simply says, “Keep death daily before your eyes”.  So in the compline liturgy (evening prayers), there is one canticle that is often sung, the Canticle of Simeon, who was ready to depart and be with God because he held the infant Jesus in his arms.  “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” (Book of Common Prayer)


Why would the ancient spiritual masters remind us to “keep death daily before our eyes”?  Some might think this is dark, depressing, or morbid.  Didn’t Jesus come so that we can have life and to have it to the fullest (John 10:10)?  What, if any, is the spiritual wisdom in being mindful that we could die anytime?


Living in the Present

Psalm 90:12, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  What one commentator wrote about the modern person is that she lives as if she is immortal, constantly putting off what needs to be done today, and always thinking that there is time to fix the mistakes of life, until one day she is confronted with the final days and feel this deep sense of regret.   Could it be that when we realize our mortality, it is then that we actually live life to the fullest in the moment?



Living with a Passion and Purpose

Perhaps being aware of our inevitable death can also inspire us to live with passion and purpose.   Ancient proverbial wisdom says, “He who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for”.   Jim Elliott, the great missionary who died on the mission field said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.”   Of course, all of this is consistent with what our Lord Jesus Christ said in Mark 8:34-35, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”


This past week, we came to the story of the execution of John the Baptist (Mark 6:13-29).  John was the forerunner of Jesus in the preaching of repentance, salvation, and the kingdom of God.  He was also the forerunner of Jesus in death.  Mark, by sandwiching this story in the sending out of the twelve, is ‘keeping death before our eyes’.  Essentially, Mark is painting a word picture of what discipleship can look like.  The question before us is this; do you still want to be a disciple of Jesus?


Season of Lent

As we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday on Mar 5th, may I invite you to “keep death before your eyes” by surrendering things that are hindering you from being a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Just focus on one thing over the next 40 days.  May you experience life as you put some part of yourself to death.


Peace and grace, John


Last Updated on Friday, 04 May 2018 12:30