Death is a Gardener

Questions for Journal Reflection:

  • Many of us have experienced the global trauma of the pandemic as a numbness. How does or doesn’t this resonate with you? Travel through any guilt you may be experiencing in response to this. Where does the pressure to respond in particular ways stem from for you?
  • What memories of death do you have? Has the past year stirred up past grief? How has it changed your experience of grief?
  • When we’re most honest, our own mortality often terrifies us. What about dying is scary to you?  Have you had experiences where you experienced mortality as a gift? How does that shape this season for you? 
  • What are your methods and patterns of coping? What does healthy, holistic coping look like for you?1


Last January, I was heading down to Connecticut to visit a close friend of mine for the weekend. During the drive, it began to snow suddenly on a mountain road, and the car slipped on black ice as we moved downhill, resulting in the car crashing into a snowbank on the side of the road. Three airbags deployed. With my ears ringing and my heart pounding, I sat stunned in the passenger’s seat. My mind could not stop replaying the scene over and over again, each time fearing that the outcome in one of those scenes would be death.

By God’s grace, the two of us in the car survived with no injuries. In the several nights and days following this accident, my mind was fixated on what had happened, and I constantly ruminated on my proximity to death. It was so much closer to me than I had realized. Death could have met me on that road, and it would not have mattered whether or not I felt ready to leave this earth. With news of the coronavirus and its death toll also spreading during this time, I began to think more about my fear of dying and confront death as a reality that I would personally have to face one day.

This was not the first time I’ve thought about death. For years, I had lived with a debilitating fear of death. The fear of losing my life to some unexpected event, the fear that my life would be lost too soon, my years wasted to an accident, a mistake, or a simple oversight. Whenever I entered uncharted territory, I would always be thinking of the different ways I could die in that moment. As my paranoid mind raced through hypothetical possibilities of death, my heart would beat faster and my breathing would become heavy. Death was terrifying. It was, for me, the epitome of suffering and evil.

Yet when I began to actually wrestle with my proximity to death and process my fears about dying, my thoughts on death started to shift. I realized that death itself was not what scared me. It was what came after death, and not knowing exactly what came after death, that was truly terrifying. What I believed would happen after death greatly influenced my reaction toward death.

Having worked out a personal understanding of death and dying is a crucial factor in deciding how you want to live your life. Dr. Lydia Dugdale is a professor at Columbia University who recently published The Lost Art of Dying. In an Instagram Live before the release of her book, she noted, “There is no way to die well if you don’t give any thought to the fact that you are mortal.”2 Although death may be a somber and avoided topic of conversation, the reality is that all of us will one day face death. What you recognize and accept about this inevitable truth will change your understanding of life. 

If you believe that there is no afterlife, it might be important for you to pursue everything you want to on earth before you die. Death is the end of existence. If you believe in an afterlife that is determined by how good of a person you were on earth, you might try to strive toward goodness in your thoughts, words, and actions. Death is the time of ultimate judgment.

As a Christian, I believe in the God who has overcome death and its judgment over us. Jesus came to earth in the form of a human being and chose to die on a cross to redeem our brokenness through His sacrifice. This death reconciled the separation between God and humans so that we could be in relationship with Him. Yet Jesus did not remain dead. God asserted His ultimate power over death when He raised Jesus from the grave. For those who believe in Jesus, death no longer condemns; instead, it ushers in new life. Jesus transformed death from an executioner into a gardener, and living in fear of death is to doubt this victory.

This is why Paul in his letter to the Philippians can boldly declare, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”4 When I live with faith that there is something better for me after death, I am freed from the fear of dying. Dying no longer symbolizes an end but rather a beginning of an eternal life with Christ. This hope frees me to fully enjoy each moment of my earthly life without worrying about when, where, or how I will die. The certainty of death instead becomes a reminder that my time on earth is finite and therefore something to be cherished while I am here. My life takes on deeper meaning as I am encouraged to live my life in hope and not in fear, looking ahead to that time when I will be reunited with Jesus.

Living without the fear of dying, however, does not mean that my life is void of death’s reminders. Death is woven into the pattern of our lives. As we journey through life, we encounter analogies of death that remind us of the ultimate end. Endings and goodbyes, breakups and departures; these are all experiences that reflect the character of death. Consider the death of a way of life that changes the way you interact with others, or imagine the death of a former worldview that brings you to see the world in a new light. In this age of COVID-19, there are many people in the world experiencing death or its parallels. We are suddenly being thrust into uncertainty, confronted with abrupt ends of life and ways of life. 

Yet if God has already transformed the fear and uncertainty of our earthly death into the hope of new life through His victory over the grave, I know that He will also use the other ends we face in this world to usher in a better life. Death and analogous endings can seem full of uncertainty. Similar to how a seed sown deeply into the earth is first surrounded by complete darkness before it emerges into the light, the uncertainty that we face now may simply be the growing pains of a new life. In time, I trust that God will bring us all into a more whole, more beautiful world.



1 Riley, Cole Arthur. “MORTALITY | Lent III.” Patreon, 28 Feb. 2021, 

2 Veritas Forum [@veritasforum]. Conversation with Lydia Dugdale. Instagram, 9 Jul. 2020,

3 Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Viking Press, 2015, pp. 149.

4 Philippians 3:21, 23, ESV.

Reflections on 2020: Comfort & Joy

Recently, the Williams Telos Board invited members of the Telos community to reflect on 2020 and share their challenges, comforts, and joys. We sent out an anonymous form and created a visual representation of the collected responses.

If you haven’t already, we encourage you to take some time to think about your 2020 and check out this short reflection guide we made centered around the themes of comfort and joy

Graphic created by Sarah Gantt ’23

Where is the Church?: A Telos Thoughts Reflection

We had a Telos Thoughts meeting on Saturday, October 10 where we listened to an excerpt from episode 2 of Take Me to Church, a podcast created and hosted by Dasol Lee ’21. After reflecting on some questions, we collaborated on a collage of ideas, issues, and themes we wanted the current Church to speak on and engage themselves in.

Created by: Catherine Chen, Sarah Gantt, Joshua Hewson, Esther Kim, Bemnet Mengistu, Andrew Nachamkin, Rebecca Park, Christie Yang

Every other Saturday at 11 am ET, Telos Thoughts meets to engage with a Christian intellectual medium (readings, podcasts, or videos) and reflect on it together. Email [email protected] for a Zoom link to join!

The Table You’ve Prepared

For the past couple of days, I’ve had a line from UPPERROOM’s song “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)” stuck in my head. 

There’s a table that You’ve prepared for me
In the presence of my enemies

In my head, I pictured that table, a table overflowing with good food macaroni and cheese, broiled fish, 北京烤鸭 (Peking duck), iced tea, cake. Then, using old copies of The New Yorker, I created it.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23:4-6

Living during these COVID-19 times can feel like walking through a shadowy valley of darkness and death. Yet because I know that God is with me, I have no reason to fear. None of us do. Not only does He comfort us, but he also sets a table, invites us to sit down, and delights as we feast.

Written by Rebecca Park ’22

Lamenting my privilege in COVID-19: Thoughts of a student from Wuhan

As my parents shared the news with me about how there was a new virus moving quickly through the streets of Wuhan, I stared at the screen, my eyes on the video call, but my mind elsewhere. A week later, when we called again, they began telling me about their friends who had contracted the virus. I listened and nodded. It was mid-January; I was caught up in the excitement of Winter Study, and the existence or effects of a coronavirus halfway across the world did not seem very real to me.

After President Mandel announced the closure of the College on March 11, I ran down the stairs of Schapiro and burst outside to the lawn, where others were frantically on their phones. When I called my parents to tell them the news, my dad was unfazed by my expression of shock and uncertainty at the decision. My mom had already fallen asleep, and he did not bother to wake her up and let her know. To a couple who had been living in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic—who were evacuated on a cargo airplane back to the States and quarantined in a military base for two weeks—to a couple who had experienced so many transitions in the past several weeks that they were now living from Airbnb to Airbnb, the unexpected news of the College’s shutdown was not so unexpected for them. 

My parents moved to Wuhan in the winter of 2018, but because I was attending an international boarding school in South Korea, I never lived in Wuhan for an extended period of time. Even so, I have a connection to the city. I have run through its streets, meandered along paths following its many lakes, conversed with its residents and visited museums to learn its history. Yet how separated was I from my parents that I was unable to empathize with their grieving and their mourning for the city that they were living in.

In the Purple Bubble, I often find myself forgetting the reality of death and suffering in this world (whether from COVID-19 or not), focused instead on my own concerns and desires. I’m more concerned with how I’m doing in my classes, with completing my papers, with running from meeting to meeting, with being busy, busy, too busy to think about what’s happening in the world. Over the past couple of weeks, however, I have learned to re-center attention away from myself and lament.

Lament is the language of suffering, the expression of sorrow and grief. It is a response that confronts the reality of people who face suffering and injustices of all kinds every day. Lament reminds us that death is not new. All lives on this earth will come to an end and forgetting is an indicator of privilege. 

As a Christian, I am called to love the world as God loves the world— fiercely, intimately, sacrificially. This means that I cannot remain indifferent to people experiencing hardship across the globe. I cannot be impartial in conversations about how actions by the College can and will disadvantage certain student populations. I cannot disregard the widespread racism faced by Asians and Asian-Americans during this time, nor separate its existence from structural issues of discrimination in the United States. I cannot pretend that everything is fine or succumb to the lie that there is nothing that I can do. Doing so fails to love the way that I am called to love. 

COVID-19 has exposed my apathy and laid bare my privilege. I have been able to address this privilege through lament because I can mourn for and with others. Lament is an inherently unifying act that urges me to remember how there exists a world beyond the purple bubble. I commune with those around the globe in grief; I empathize with others’ hurts as if they were my own. I lament in a way that reflects the deep love of God.

However, it is not enough to remain in a state of lament about the pandemic’s impact. Lament demands a response. If I truly love and empathize with those around me who are suffering, that love will drive me to respond with generosity. Being generous can mean using my increased time and energy to check in on my friends and family, and care for their well-being. It can mean being intentional with how I spend my money, supporting those who are struggling financially and not using my untouched spring break savings to buy more things for myself. In the midst of the pandemic, in the midst of isolation, I choose to acknowledge my privilege of ignorance and respond generously. I choose to love.

Originally posted in The Williams Record, April 14, 2020.

Written by Rebecca Park ’22