How often do you see cemeteries? Do you know, off hand, where the closest one is? Do your children? It is a sad state of affairs when we can’t answer these questions with certainty and, if you’ll allow me to indulge in a few preliminary comments, I’ll tell you why.
One of the best ways to engage literature is to pick a work you want to be shaped by and to read it again and again. I was recently rereading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy with that end in mind, and the following passage struck me:
“But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational philosophical truth in the burial at the crossroads and the stake driven through the body…there is a meaning in burying the suicide apart.”
“….And then I remembered the stake and the crossroads, and the queer fact that Christianity had shown this weird harshness to the suicide. For Christianity had shown a wild encouragement of the martyr. Historic Christianity was accused, not entirely without reason, of carrying martyrdom and asceticism to a point, desolate and pessimistic. The early Christian martyrs talked of death with a horrible happiness. They blasphemed the beautiful duties of the body: they smelt the grave afar off like a field of flowers. All this has seemed to many the very poetry of pessimism. Yet there is the stake at the crossroads to show what Christianity thought of the pessimist.”
It struck me not because of the particular topic but of the more general implication. Regardless of your convictions about the burial of suicides, these remarks demonstrate something powerful, and something contemporary Protestantism (at least in my circles) has begun to forget—our treatment of the dead translates into a meaningful theological statement. Read more…