How to pray to die?
March 2, 2021 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I’m not in danger of self harm. Content note death and wanting to die. I’m looking for leads on how to respectfully pray to die in any spiritual or religious tradition. I think it would help me a lot and ironically would make me more resilient. Thanks so much!
posted by The Last Sockpuppet to Religion & Philosophy (32 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
The book "Hidden By The Leaves" reflects on this, frequently in a sort of reversal of Pascal's Wager: to continue to live not achieved one's aim is cowardice, so when presented with a choice between life and death, the right decision is to choose death.

It's a wonderful text, but if you're going to read it at all you should read the whole thing. It's one of those texts that's unfortunately popular among people less interested in understanding and introspection, and more interested in quoting the showier bits of it while wearing wolf shirts and studying the blade.
posted by mhoye at 1:33 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]

I wonder if meditation would be good for this. Not praying so much as focusing on letting go, detaching, being perfectly ready for death when it comes. Welcoming it. Build a small alter, maybe even put out a welcome mat, no one else has to know that it's not just a regular welcome mat.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:43 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: The fact that people are answering my question and not questioning my right to ask it is making me weep in gratitude. Thank you
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 1:44 PM on March 2 [40 favorites]

In the Catholic tradition this is memento mori, a reminder that we must die which extends to particular prayers for a happy/holy death.
posted by jquinby at 1:52 PM on March 2 [6 favorites]

Hmm, I wonder if you would enjoy reading the Muslim prayer Du’a-e-Kumail. It’s not EXACTLY praying for death, but pretty close. And Shia Muslims read it at the bedsides of the dying.
posted by yawper at 2:53 PM on March 2

I'm not sure if this directly answers your question. Stoicism and Seneca in particular advocate contemplating your nonexistence and death as a way to become more resilient in the present. memento mori, this too shall pass.
posted by diode at 2:54 PM on March 2 [6 favorites]

Sufi poetry might fit the bill.

Two short poems by Rumi:

This World Which Is Made of Our Love for Emptiness
Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence. Existence:
This place made from our love for that emptiness!

Yet somehow comes emptiness,
this existence goes.

Praise to that happening, over and over!
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.

Then one swoop, one swing of the arm,
that work is over.

Free of who I was, free of presence, free of dangerous fear, hope,
free of mountainous wanting.

The here-and-now mountain is a tiny piece of a piece of straw
blown off into emptiness.

These words I'm saying so much begin to lose meaning:
Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw:

Words and what they try to say swept
out the window, down the slant of the roof.

A Just-Finishing Candle
A candle is made to become entirely flame.
In that annihilating moment
it has no shadow.

It is nothing but a tongue of light
describing a refuge.

Look at this
just-finishing candle stub
as someone who is finally safe
from virtue and vice,

the pride and the shame
we claim from those.

posted by RobinofFrocksley at 3:03 PM on March 2 [10 favorites]

When I do yoga, I get really into the idea that the "relaxation pose" at the end, Shavasana, literally translates as corpse pose. I imagine myself as a corpse in a beautiful natural setting. Sometimes I'm a half buried corpse on the side of a green mountain. Sometimes I'm washing in the waves. Maybe it's weird but this little thanatological reverie helps me face life better.
posted by Morpeth at 3:03 PM on March 2 [10 favorites]

You might find some solace in the Episcopal tradition.
posted by stellaluna at 3:08 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

I find reading traditional Buddhist texts really connects me with the reality of my death. The Dhammapada has some beautiful passages about our bodies as rotting logs, frail bags of bones, and how we might meet these states.

Compassion and respect for you: facing and having a relationship with mortality is I think one of the most meaningful things we can do as human beings.
posted by Balthamos at 3:11 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]

Stoicism embraces this concept with memento mori (literally "remember you will die") - the idea that we will all die, possibly any moment, so live life actively and not passively. Stoicism is great for this kind of stuff: accepting the reality of the world (that death is absolute) while still remaining an active participant in life - it's been a game changer for how I view the world.
posted by _DB_ at 3:18 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]

The book of Job is a lengthy exercise in this, as part of a dialogue on the themes of suffering and one's integrity—Job prays to God (6:8) to let him die:
‘O that I might have my request,
and that God would grant my desire;
that it would please God to crush me,
that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!
This would be my consolation;
I would even exult in unrelenting pain;
for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
What is my strength, that I should wait?
And what is my end, that I should be patient?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:26 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]

Not about prayer exactly, but you might find the book A Year to live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last helpful. It's by meditation teacher Stephen Levine.

From the description: "On his deathbed, Socrates exhorted his followers to practice dying as the highest form of wisdom. Levine decided to live this way himself for a whole year, and now he shares with us how such immediacy radically changes our view of the world and forces us to examine our priorities."
posted by daikon at 4:05 PM on March 2

"Jezebel immediately sent a messenger to Elijah with her threat: “The gods will get you for this and I’ll get even with you! By this time tomorrow you’ll be as dead as any one of those prophets.”

When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there and then went on into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush.

Suddenly an angel shook him awake and said, “Get up and eat!”

He looked around and, to his surprise, right by his head were a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep.

The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.
--- Old Testament 1st Kings Chapter 19 "The Message"
posted by forthright at 4:12 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]

Ah - a couple of other things occurred to me as I was noodling over this question. Since you were asking specifically about prayers -

The official daily/hourly prayers of the Catholic Church are called the Office (or Liturgy) of the Hours - cycles of psalms, scripture, and other readings recited at particular times of the day (Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline, etc). The structure of the Office remains generally the same, but the readings change to reflect the particular liturgical season of the moment - Ordinary Time, Advent, Lent, and so forth.

There is a separate set of readings called the Office of the Dead, and it's usually said on All Soul's Day (Nov 2) but can be said at most any other time for a specific person or or group. The entirety of the Office of the Dead is here. It may be interesting to see what those left behind are praying for when remembering those who have died.

Another prayer that's not specific to death or dying, but may nevertheless be useful in your meditation comes from Thomas Merton:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
posted by jquinby at 4:23 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]

(rats, that link jumps straight to Vespers; scroll up to see the whole thing)
posted by jquinby at 4:33 PM on March 2

It has been many years since I read it, but The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda had a memorable section on death, and on the need in constant awareness of ones death, and in relationship with it.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 4:35 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

Some aspects of the psychedelic experience are intertwined with death. You can see in the work of Stanislav Grof and in the music of the Grateful Dead.

Many spiritual practices include a concept of "dying before death," leaving the body and entering the divine realm or detaching from earthly existence during meditation.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 4:44 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

Mingyur Rinpoche is a Buddhist monk and mediation teacher (and pretty happy seeming guy) who spent five years wandering Nepal. Early in that experience, he nearly died of food poisoning. He talks about how letting himself die gave him new insight into Buddhism.
posted by chrisulonic at 6:36 PM on March 2

I think it's wise to turn to teachers for guidance when you're feeling this intimate with something as holy as death. And for whatever it is worth, I am glad you asked. :)

From the faith tradition I was raised in, Orthodox Christianity, you might consider virtually attending some Holy Week services this year. Holy Week kicks off with Palm Sunday (March 28 in the Western tradition this year) and includes Good Friday. Lots of meditation on preparation for death. Beautiful hymns, lots of symbolism. Here's a writeup on Holy Thursday, which is about the lead-up to the crucifixion and thematically seems about right. Of course, this is Christianity, so it's focused on the J-man with an eye towards resurrection/salvation/judgement, so so YMMV.

If you need more details or a point towards a specific church to virtually attend, feel free to memail me. The amount of material I linked could be overwhelming.

From my current "faith tradition," :), agnosticism, I have quite a lot of poems that help me personally feel closer to death, in the sense that I am sitting next to it on a park bench. If that would be helpful, let me know - I can memail the links or include them here for people who come to this thread later.
posted by snerson at 6:45 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

It's not prayer, but this put me in mind of Hagakure, a samurai manual that admittedly I'm familiar with only through the film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which is extremely worth watching even if this winds up doing nothing for you. A representative quote from the book as presented in the movie (I don't know what translation they use):

The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai.
posted by babelfish at 7:08 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

This made me think of many a song in the Sacred Harp tradition. Idumea:
And am I born to die?
To lay this body down!
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?...
(Text to all songs here)

Some sound anguished and somber; others are quite joyful!
posted by charcoals at 7:48 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]

"Do you remember the time before you were born?" has always been enough for me. I'm sure it's from somewhere.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:11 PM on March 2

I have found the philosophy of death that is expressed by the children's book The Fall of Freddie the Leaf to be really useful.
posted by metabaroque at 8:38 PM on March 2

Maraṇasati (wikipedia): (mindfulness of death, death awareness) is a Buddhist meditation practice of remembering (frequently keeping in mind) that death can strike at anytime.

I remember reading about the meditative imagery of decomposition. Wikipedia has it as:

A corpse that is "swollen, blue and festering."
A corpse that is "being eaten by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals or by different kinds of worms."
A corpse that is "reduced to a skeleton together with (some) flesh and blood held in by the tendons."
A corpse that is "reduced to a blood-besmeared skeleton without flesh but held in by the tendons."
A corpse that is "reduced to a skeleton held in by the tendons but without flesh and not besmeared with blood."
A corpse that is "reduced to bones gone loose, scattered in all directions."
A corpse that is "reduced to bones, white in color like a conch."
A corpse that is "reduced to bones more than a year old, heaped together."
A corpse that is "reduced to bones gone rotten and become dust."

posted by judypjhsu at 8:50 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

Haven’t studied catechisms since school, but my memory of the Job story is that through his trials, his faith was rewarded with double the riches he had (in this life). Jesus (it was said) suffered the agony of crucifixion and bore the pain (Latin, penalty) of all humanity for all its sins, that wasn’t abated, it was the way through for him and everyone else. The main idea is (I gather) that we’re in this experience, which includes loss, alienation, pain, sickness, war, and destruction, for reasons unfathomable to the human mind, which are all a part of a divine plan. Eternal redemption is promised to those who put their faith in God. God promises comfort, strength, a spiritual future filled with love, to those who lend their faith, not to those who give up or turn away from life, which is given, it is a gift. It is a call for faith. Like these:

Psalm 23:4-6 - Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 40:1-3 - I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Deuteronomy 31:8 – The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

I don’t recall a prayer for death. They are about wanting to be close to God, which the bible says happens through works of faith and devotion despite the hardships of life.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:57 PM on March 2

It's more of a meditation than a prayer, but you may enjoy the Egyptian poem Death is before me today (translation 1, translation 2 with analysis)

It dates to the Middle Kingdom and is part of a longer papyrus, Berlin 3024, also known as "Dialogue between Self and Soul" or "Dispute between a man and his Ba."
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:36 AM on March 3

I am not a praying sort but for some time I have awoken to the thought, "well, maybe today will be the last one." You could shift that to a little prayer-thought, "may today be the last one." The nice thing is that "the last one" could theoretically be anything--the last day of a job, or a headache, or a relationship, or this feeling you're having, etc.--so you don't even have to change it if a prayer for death stops feeling useful. We have all got SOMEthing in our lives that we wouldn't be sad to lose after today.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:27 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]

Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:26 AM on March 3

I find the refrain from "Find the Cost of Freedom" quite effective

Mother earth will swallow you
Lay your body down
Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground

Freedom is taken as having a different meaning in the original context, but of course death is the ultimate freedom

Chesterton's verse, The Skeleton, has something meaningful to say to me about enjoying death.

Chattering finch and water-fly
Are not merrier than I;
Here among the flowers I lie
Laughing everlastingly.
No; I may not tell the best;
Surely, friends, I might have guessed
Death was but the good King's jest,
It was hid so carefully.

Dust in the Wind is another possible hymn to death

I close my eyes
Only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes, a curiosity

Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do
Crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Now, don't hang on
Nothin' lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
(All we are is dust in the wind)
Dust in the wind
(Everything is dust in the wind)
Everything is dust in the wind
The wind

(However it seems that DNA may in fact have greater longevity than earth and sky as it is older and more durable than continents and has escaped into outer space.)
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:41 AM on March 3

This is perhaps a little out of left field, but there's a spectacular scene in the series finale of The Good Place where Chidi talks about death. The whole series is great, you should watch it, but that little talk is as good a meditation on the idea of death as I've ever heard.
posted by Superilla at 2:58 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]

If you happen to have an iPhone, there's an app called Mortal that you may like: "Mortal helps you gain a new perspective on life by reflecting on death. The app features a series of 21 guided audio lessons, called "contemplations", which help you explore and embrace the fleeting nature of life." It's great.
posted by homesickness at 4:20 PM on March 5

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