The Bear Cave: Remembering life’s value

A few weeks ago, I went on a caving trip for the first time. I got to slip past hibernating bats, hop from rock to rock across a subterranean stream and even see some stalactites up close.

My favorite part of the trip was when our group sat on a rocky outcropping, turned our headlamps off and took in the total darkness and complete stillness. It was like the silence itself had a presence.

And there, sitting in silence and surrounded by stone, I had to face the fact that I had barely even scratched the surface of God’s creation. I recognized that I had pushed myself beyond my limits — it turns out I greatly overestimated my rock-climbing skills — to the point where I thought I had reached the end of my strength.

Though the trip was a lot more intense than I thought it would be, I’m glad I did it. A lot of people talk about living life with no regrets and checking off items from their life bucket list— but there’s a phrase that adds a little more weight to those ideas: Memento mori.

The old Latin phrase roughly translates to “remember you will die.” This sentiment has long echoed throughout history, but this particular phrase rose to prominence during medieval times, according to the St. Louis Review.

But I would be doing an injustice to suggest that Memento mori merely means to take risks or follow your heart. The phrase was often used to encourage others to meditate on their own death so that they would live a life that was righteous in the eyes of God.

The website Classical Wisdom suggests that Memento mori may have begun as an ancient Roman practice. When a successful general would parade through a city after a great victory, a slave would whisper in his ear “Memento mori” to remind him that his fame and honor were temporary.

Christians often incorporated Memento mori into their art to remind followers of Christ that this world would fade and be replaced by the next one. For example, funerary art would represent inevitable death with a winged skull, and paintings featured other symbols of death, such as hourglasses and wilted flowers, according to Britannica.

In fact, the ideas of Memento mori are present in Christian teachings and scriptures. The Book of Sirach, a book in the Catholic Bible, states, “In everything you do, remember your end, and you will not sin” (Sirach 7:36). In Psalm 39, David writes, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is!”

Some people let their fear of death rule them; they would rather ignore its inevitability than deal with the uncomfortable thought of it. As a result, they live a life of fear. They refuse to take risks, but most importantly, they forget the value of life when they dismiss the fact that they will one day lose it.   

Similarly, some may acknowledge death only to use it as an excuse to pursue a life of sin. Like those who let their fear of death rule them, they forget about the life after death. On the contrary, we need to see our mortality as a transition into the promises of Christ.

When we embrace our own mortality, we acknowledge God’s immortality and the life only he can give. Part of this means living for him and for him alone.

When I was caving, I got to appreciate God’s creation on a level I never could have before. And I must confess that death did cross my mind a time or  two as I inched across the treacherous path along the cave wall.

While death will happen to all of us, it is not the end. It is simply the beginning of one of the greatest stories ever told — and it’s time we started living like we want to read the next chapter.

Bear is the editor-in-chief for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

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