The Portal November 2016 - Page 10

THE P RTAL November 2016 Page 10 Thoughts on Newman Keeping death ever before our eyes The Revd Dr Stephen Morgan has been thinking about death and how Blessed John Henry Newman saw it I t is, so the great spiritual writers tell us, a very good thing to keep death ever before our eyes. Thanks be to God and to the advances in health care, this has become ever more difficult for most people. Those advances – together with what we might call the ‘medicalisation’ of death – whilst entirely welcome in their physical consequences, are distinctly mixed blessings in the spiritual domain. For you and me, death tends to occur hidden away in hospitals or care homes after prolonged periods of declining physical health and ever more intrusive medical interventions. For few of us, these days, death comes in our own homes and in front of our own eyes. T S Eliot remarked, in Four Quartets – Burnt Norton, that “human kind cannot bear too much reality”, although his punctuation is singular, lending a delightful ambiguous, somewhat oblique feel to his precise meaning. When that reality takes place only in particular, peculiar, remote contexts – as death does in our own times, our own culture – we are able largely to ignore it, to avoid bearing it at all, for all intents and purposes: such is death for us today. If we are able to ignore the reality of death and avoid any consciousness of the inevitability of our own, the spiritual consequences can be extremely serious. We can live with no awareness of our own eternal destiny, with little thought given to the everlasting consequences of our actions. Trends in theology over the last century and a half have compounded these orientations by telling us that our faith is n