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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by William A. Kolb

Tuesday, October 5

 The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.

—St. Iraneus, Bishop
Church of France, First Century

As a young man I sold life insurance for a major company. Part of my training involved finding prospective clients through the newspaper: people with new mortgages, for example, or new parents. The one group I remember most clearly is pallbearers.

The insurance company taught us trainees to scour the obituaries for the names of pallbearers at funerals (in those days the pallbearers were often listed). It seems that pallbearers, being freshly acquainted with death, were ripe for a conversation about life insurance.

Most of us are not nearly as receptive. We go through life with a natural unconsciousness about our own death. It’s not that we think we are never going to die; it is just that we stay away from the whole subject, especially when we are young. 

We look at children who do dangerous things, or teenagers who drive unsafely, and say, “They think they are going to live forever.” And, it often is the case that unless their childhood is robbed from them by living, for example, in a war-torn country, young people feel invulnerable. In most developed nations children are free to grow up as nature intended, which includes a sense of immortality.

As we grow older we may begin to come to terms with our own death. Even so, no matter what our age, most of us have a kind of curtain drawn over the reality of our finiteness. 

But if and when we are in the presence of death, it becomes more difficult to avoid the fact that we are gong to die. That is why the insurance company taught us to talk to pallbearers as soon as possible after the funeral, before the curtain got drawn back over the realities of life and death.

Ernest Becker, Pulitzer-prize-winning author of Denial of Death, says that making peace with our death frees up a lot of psychic and spiritual energy for the living of life. Yet it seems that experiencing life in all its fullness without a conscious awareness of our death is freeing as well, especially if we are fairly young. 

It gives us the freedom to dare to change the world using our natural gifts and inclinations. It gives us the hope and optimism to marry and raise a family.

They are two different ways of approaching death that are worth your consideration. Whichever way makes you most fully alive would be the one for you.

Good and gracious God, pour upon us the blessings of your guidance; help us to know and use the gifts you have given us, to your Glory. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.