Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Danse Macabre

The Dance of Death--Danse Macabre--from the middle ages was the subject of the Culture of Life column in the Catholic Peace Weekly. Pictures were included that personified death dancing with the Christians, death giving no warning and in an instant becoming the partner in the dance. 

The many epidemics of the middle ages helped people see death as always imminent, and very much influencing the culture at that time. This Dance of Death was most often seen in the morality plays and in the visual art of the middle ages. It was also an attempt to see death in a positive way and to prepare us to meet it. Taking no notice of anyone's social status, it shows us the emptiness of life and the impermanence of personal achievements.

 What is unique in this dance of death, as performed in the middle ages, is that death is the only one dancing. The living stand by stiffly or turn away from death in silence, refusing obstinately death's summons to join in the dance. The lesson? Be prepared for death.

These portrayals of death were usually in churches, monasteries or cemeteries. They begin with scenes that show the inevitability of death and its inclusiveness--not even the most fortunate among us is spared. And at the end we are shown the dead who are saved, dancing with the angels. Death is in God's plan and for believers filled with meaning.

It all begins at birth and ends with death, which completes life's journey. Death signals the attaining of our goal and the realization of life's meaning and hope. 
Though meant for all, death is experienced individually; it's a special time, the conclusion of our earthy life. In life we have all types of hopes but the hope that we have facing death transcends all these hopes and is the ultimate hope, the hope to be one with Christ in his resurrection. Death is not the last reality, although this is how it is seen by many, but rather the opening to a new, fuller life, consequently there is no place for despair, but a time for grace and joy.  
Older Koreans had an easier way with death for they spent many hours at the cemetery each year and remembered the dead on their big holidays. As was true in other traditional cultures, death was close at hand for them. With the change to a more modern lifestyle, death is masked,pushed out of consciousness, and we tend to lose sight of death as our on-going 'silent' partner in life, whose presence should remind us of life's more enduring values that await us after death.


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