And specially [pray] for all those souls
       that have most...
(Shakespeare, Sonnet 146)


Death meets us every where [sic], and is procured by every instrum...
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Art Of Dying (Texts)


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The Rt Revd Gordon Mursell Bishop Gordon is a well-known preacher, author and tutor in spirituality. The art of dying in the English Spiritual Tradition was presented at Hospiscare's Holy Living, Holy Dying held in Exeter 2 November 2009.

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Art Of Dying (Texts)

  1. 1. THE ART OF DYING IN THE ENGLISH SPIRITUAL TRADITION And specially [pray] for all those souls that have most need to be prayed for and have the fewest friends. (Anon. (12th cent.), The Lay Folks’ Mass Book, Bidding Prayer IV). LIVING WITH DEATH “As you are, so once we were. As we are, so shall you be” (common inscription on medieval tombs) Removed in the Midst of his Usefulness. Reader “be ye also Ready.”(Memorial at Wigtown Parish Church, Scotland, to Alexander Cowdie (1808-62). COMMUNION WITH THE DEAD There was a man who, as he walked through the cemetery, always recited the De profundis for the dead. Once, when he was running away through the cemetery with his enemies after him, the buried, each one armed with the tool proper to his craft, quickly rose and defended the fleeing man with might and main. His pursuers, terrified, retreated in haste. [Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. W.G.Ryan, Princeton UP 1993, vol.II p285] DEATH AND LAMENT “Why did you bring me forth from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me, and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort before I go, never to return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness” (Job 10:18-21, included in the late medieval Dirige, or Office for the Dead). LEARNING FROM DEATH Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth, [Fool'd by] these rebel powers that thee array; Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth, Painting thy outward walls so costly gay? Why so large cost, having so short a lease, Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend? Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end? Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss, And let that pine to aggravate thy store. Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross; Within be fed, without be rich no more. So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men, And death once dead, there's no more dying then. 1
  2. 2. (Shakespeare, Sonnet 146) WISDOM IN THE FACE OF DEATH Death meets us every where [sic], and is procured by every instrument and in all chances, and enters in at many doors; by violence and secret influence, by the aspect of a star and the stink of a mist, by the emissions of a cloud and the meeting of a vapour, by the fall of a chariot and the stumbling at a stone, by a full meal or an empty stomach, by watching at the wine or by watching at prayers, by the sun or the moon, by a heat or a cold, by sleepless nights or sleeping days, by waters frozen into the hardness and sharpness of a dagger, or waters thawed into the floods of a river, by a hair or a raisin, by violent motion or sitting still, by severity or dissolution, by God's mercy or God's anger; by every thing in providence and every thing in manners, by every thing in nature and every thing in chance. (Jeremy Taylor, [The Rule and Exercise of] Holy Dying (1651) 1:1). THE MYSTERY OF DEATH Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: What if my leaves are falling like its own! The tumult of thy mighty harmonies Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone, Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce, My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one! Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? (Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind, 1820) I know. It is not easy to explain Why should there be such agony to bear? Why should the whole wide world be full of pain? But then, why should her hair Be like the sudden sunshine after rain? Turn cynic if you will. Curse God and die. You've ample reason for it. There's enough Of bitterness, God knows, to answer why. The road of life is rough, But then there is the glory of the sky... (Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), from Tragedy) 2