Memento Mori

Yang Ming Shan National Park

by: Steven Garber*

A pondering day, the last day of December– the end of a year, and the beginning of another.

For many years now I have taken these winter days of late December and early January to read from Abraham Kuyper. An unusual man for any time, he was at his heart a contemplative who at the same time fully engaged the ideas and issues of his day. For decades he lived between two worlds, in the image of John Stott, the world of ancient texts and creeds and the world of contemporary life and culture.

At the turn of the 20th-century, so over a hundred years ago now, Kuyper was elected the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and in those same years wrote 110 mediation on these few words from the Psalms, “It is good to be near unto the Lord.” So a politician of the first order, deeply a part of the debates of his society; and at the same time someone who practiced “lectio divina,” the slow, meditative reading of Scripture, turning over and over again in his heart a few words from the psalms of David.

An unusual man, yes.

In the early evening Meg and I sat near our Christmas tree, sure that it was “the most beautiful tree of all,” and read from Kuyper’s meditations on the old year becoming the new year. He draws us into a musing over “memento mori,” translated as “remember your mortality.” Weighty words at any time, but even more so on this last night of the year.

We spent the hours before midnight with good friends in the neighborhood, and everyone there has experienced the heartache of death in the last year. A father, a mother, a sister-in-law; and in the wider circle, daughters, sisters and spouses have died as well. None of us have to go far without knowing of the sorrows of friends and neighbors, near and far.

Memento mori? Kuyper asks us to “remember that we too shall die,” looking back on our days and peering into the new year as we do, not knowing what the minutes and months will mean for us. “Mori” is not so far from morbid, and it is possible to think too much of our mortality. But it is an equal danger to not think enough of our mortality. Reading the wisdom of a man who was once so very alive and who is now dead—and yet who still lives near unto God –is good for my soul.


*Steven Garber is always working at the nexus of faith to vocation to culture. His work is the Washington Institute, which is most of all an embodied fellowship of folk in the Washington, DC area, but which also takes him among many people in many places. The author of The Fabric of Faithfulness, he has long been committed to working at the intersection of popular culture to political culture. Married to Meg, they are members of The Falls Church.

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