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The Comfort of Death

[Ancient Faith Radio, August 9, 2007]

Hi, this is Frederica Mathewes-Green. I’m in the car; there’s cars going by me. I’m on I-95 south, driving from Baltimore to Washington. And I was just thinking that sometimes I’m comforted with the thought that I’m going to die someday.

I’m going to give a speech this morning and it’s hard to write. It’s hard to write and speak in contexts other than Orthodox for me, because when I talk to secular people or to other sorts of Christians, the whole worldview, the whole framework, the whole vocabulary is so different from what I’ve gotten used to and come to love so much in Orthodoxy. And I’ve got a speech I’ve been writing for the last several weeks; it’s three times as long as the time they’ve given me to speak. I’m so anxious to be able to express what I’m saying without being misunderstood. And, you know, that’s tiring.

It’s funny, when I read, when I listen to other speakers, that little computer in my head is spinning constantly, trying to think of alternative ways to say things, or synonyms. It’s like I never stop writing in my head.

There’s a story about James Thurber, the humorist of the 50s and 60s who was a big writer at the New Yorker, he was blind, and it said that he just never stopped writing, that he was always in his head, writing away, wherever he was, and the saying was that when he and his wife were at parties sometimes she would walk across the room to him and say, ‘Thurber, stop writing.’ And I know that’s true for me.

It’s hard to stop seeing the whole world through a video camera lens, if you know what I mean. And it’s just plain hard work. You know, you can shovel stacks of words only so long, and you just get exhausted because there’s so many things that can’t be said in words.

Anyway, I was thinking, it’s gonna be nice to go home someday. And to not have to do all this shoveling anymore. There was a time a few years ago, when I knew I couldn’t do that because my kids were still my responsibility; I had to raise them, and now they’re all grown and married. And they’re all believers and they have beautiful families. And I just feel a little more free.

I think about that Desert Fathers story – I think it’s in the Desert Fathers – where the monk told his younger monk, his disciple, ‘Go into the graveyard and insult the dead.’ And so the monk did, the young monk did. He went in and just hurled all kinds of abuse at the dead and came back. And this time his spiritual father said, ‘No go back and praise the dead.’ So he did; and he praised them and he heaped all kinds of flowery accolades on them and came back and his spiritual father said, ‘So did they react when you insulted them? And did they react when you praised them?’ No, of course not. He said, ‘You must be like that.’

So I’m trying to be like that; I’m trying not to get rattled when new ideas come in and I’m not sure how to cope with them. I think one thing that will help me is just restricting my reading and reading more and more in the spiritual classics and not getting as distressed and confused by the things that are in the news and the other opinions I hear flying around.

O dear Lord Jesus, teach me how to pray. Teach me how to pray constantly. All I want is you. All I want is more of you. I want you to fill al of me. Thank you dear Lord. Help me as I go to give this speech this morning, and help me as I deal with the fact that I have far more than I can say. Let me be a wise editor as I go through this speech on the fly. Thank you, dear Lord Jesus.

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