Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Medieval Devotions, Moose, and the Four Last Things

I wrote earlier about Medieval Devotions.  I wrote earlier about how Bruce, our GPS lured us into a field of marauding moose in a vain attempt to try to kill us.  (Okay, it wasn't quite like that--but it could have been!)  Life, as I learn over and over again, is what happens when we're busy making other plans.

Our road trip was uneventful in the sense that we got there and got home safely.  But many things did not go according to plan.  I didn't plan, for instance, to have water leak all over my carefully handwritten directions--made just for the event that Bruce tried to mislead us.  (I know him well!)  My plan was the better part of two full days at the Grand Canyon.  Instead, we spent a relaxing morning at the Mt. Peale Sanctuary and Retreat Inn, visiting Chris, Teague, and their dogs and horses that do equine therapy work, and getting to know Jeff and his daughter who were there on vacation with a friend.

I planned on taking the shuttle onto base, only to find out that despite being told otherwise, there was not a shuttle to every event.  We planned a quick stop to take pictures of the Rockies and instead had a very lengthy stop sharing the hospitality and coffee of Daley and his three dogs and his traveling companions.  We didn't plan on ending up at a Spanish Mass in the Rockies on Easter Sunday.  We most certainly didn't plan on driving deep into a forest on a rutted dirt road and finding ourselves among the moose!

We planned a return route through Wichita, Kansas, but--all my sons' joking about taking a left at Albu-quoiky aside--someone apparently did take a wrong turn (can't blame it on Bruce this time) and we ended up in a completely different state than we planned.  (It was fine--it was an alternate route home that had been among our choices anyway.)

One begins to wonder: what is the point in planning, then? 

Well, this is where Bruce and the Moose intersects with medieval devotions, medieval thought, and the idea of The Four Last Things.

It's not an idea that has disappeared, but far less well-known today than it once was.  The Four Last Things, with which Niall was no doubt familiar, are Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven.  Let's leave aside for the moment the question of believing in the last three.  Many people don't.  But the concept has a great deal of wisdom to it, whether one believes in these or not.

hieronymus bosh, medieval paintings, seven deadly sins, four last things
It certainly engages the creative mind--and has for centuries.  A painting attributed to Hieronymus Bosch in the early 1500s depicts The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things.  A search on the term today shows several books using The Four Last Things in their titles.

The idea is simple and applied to many fields other than faith and philosophy: start from the end.  Where do you want to end up?  Now plan for that.  How does an author want the story to end?  Plot the end from the very start.  How does an architect want a building to look?  Plan it that way from the start.  How does a composer want a piece to sound?  Know the end before you start writing the piece.

So it is in life.  Where do you want your life to end up?  What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?  How do you want to be written should an author ever choose to work you into a novel?  Who do you want at your side in your last moments on earth?  What do you want your memories to be when you're on your death bed?  Start from there and your life begins to write itself very differently.

The balance--or flip side--to this is that things do not always go according to plan.  You find that people are telling unjustified stories about you.  You may be unjustly blamed or accused.  The economy may crash or technology change such that your degree doesn't pan out as it was supposed to.  You end up taking a different route home than you planned (how's that for a profound allegorical statement?)

And yet--if we don't plan, we don't even get close.  We end up not finding a hotel for the night at all--or finding one that costs three times what we could afford.  We end up acting on whims or living each day with no thought to where it's all taking us, but only to our own pleasure of the moment.  And slowly, we find ourselves painted into corners of our own making.

good vs evil, dual nature,
Of course, as one of my 'taglines' says of Shawn, nobody is all good and nobody is all bad.  Many people manage to plan at least somewhat--as Shawn plans where he wants his music, his career, his public relations, his concerts, and his sales to end up--but fail to think about other aspects of their lives--as he fails to think about where his hedonism is taking him.  He lets his desires of each moment pull him along like a leaf on a river.  As much as he is in charge in some areas, in others, he lets life carry him along until he's in a corner, wondering how he got there.

We've all known people like this--stumbling into 'forever' with one person while their behavior is screaming to everyone who can see that they are not in love, or taking a job that everyone else can see they will hate, because they let life and impulse decisions pull them along with no thought to what the end result might be and whether that was really where they wanted to end up.

Have they thought what good they want to put into the world, what legacy they are leaving, who they want to be at their side when they face the trip into eternity, whatever that trip might hold?


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