Memento Mori

Our culture expends a great deal of energy (and money) postponing death. We inject botox into our faces to look younger, or have surgeries to remove wrinkles; we obsess about vitamins and nutrients and health regimes. Longevity may be one of our most powerful idols; death may be one of our greatest fears. More than any culture in history, we long to forget our mortality—so much so that the thought of death is considered morbid. But it was not always this way. Theologian Jonathan Edwards was able to mention casually in his journal insights he gained, “Tonight, while thinking on my death....” Christians throughout the ages have turned their mind toward their own mortality in order to refine their focus, long for union with God, and consider whether they were following or straying from God. The practice of Memento Mori (Latin for the rememberance of death) is not intended to be morbid, dark, occult or frightening. Instead, we recall that we “have died, and [our] life has been hidden in Christ with God. When Christ, who is [our] life appears, then [we] will also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3–4) We remember our limitations, and so gain humility; but we also remember grace and the hope of resurrection, and so gain joy. For more from the Bible, look at 1 John 3:1-2; Psalm 90:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Psalm 73.

For a 3-minute video introduction to the practices, visit

This may be the most alien pratice for our culture, and frightening. So it is best to begin with the joy of Christ’s return, rather than straight-on considering death. Here are some ideas for meditating on the hope of heaven: • Read 1 Corinthians 15:35–58 slowly and meditatively. This is a complex, mysterious passage, but don’t worry too much about figuring out all the details. Instead, consider the hope and excitement that Paul clearly feels when thinking about our resurrection! Go onine and find a painting by Jan van Eyck, called The Adoration of the Lamb, part of the Ghent altarpiece. (If you Google those words, you’ll find it.) Read Revelation 5, and then ponder the imagery and hope as you look on the painting. Let the painting move you toward worshipping the Lamb of God, and hoping for His return! As you go to sleep tonight, recite the Prayer of St. Simeon from Luke 2. This has long been prayed by Christians at bedtime, as a way of remembering that one day they will rest in God forever: Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled. My eyes have seen the salvation You have prepared in the sight of every people, A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel. If you feel comfortable meditating directly on death, here are a few ideas that steer clear of morbidity: • Look online for an image of the Pieta—there are many different forms of this, as painting or sculpture, but all focus on Mary cradling the body of Jesus after He is taken down from the Cross. These very moving images center our thoughts both on our own mortality, and on the mystery that Jesus shared it willingly for our restoration. Particularly striking are the works by this title by Michaelangelo, El Greco, Van Gogh and Franz von Stuck. Spend time with one of these. As you prepare for bed, make Psalm 90:12 a breath prayer: with the rhythm of your breath, pray, “Lord,/ teach us to number our days / so we may gain/ a heart of wisdom.” Read Hebrews 9:27–28. What does it mean to know that you will die and face judgment? Journal your response.

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