HOUSE OF MOURNING
David Gunner Gundersen
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
– Psalm 90:12
There is a house of mourning that is wise beyond its years,
A museum of the dead that screams its whispers in your ears.
Having mercy as its builder and perspective as its aim,
Its walls are all serrated, its accoutrements untame.
Its rooms you will find empty, even barren, to the eye.
But you can’t ignore their ornaments or miss the silent cry.
Their nakedness will cover you with wisdom from the dead;
All distractions have been stripped away; diversions all have fled.
Such thoughtfulness feels empty when your lusts are all fulfilled,
But thoughtfulness fills vanity when laughter has been killed.
Amusement is no criminal, and ecstasy no crime;
But bereavement is a giver for it takes you in your prime.
It takes you to eternity before you settle there.
This time there is no price to pay; your death is not your fare.
This is a gracious voyage: to attend the house of loss.
The lessons all are priceless now, so take the time to cross.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
– Ecclesiastes 7:2
Though its siren is not pleasant and its warnings never cheap,
This house is ever faithful to awaken those who sleep.
It is not prejudicial—all may enter at its door,
But nor is it political to rich man or to poor.
All thrones and all dominions are defeated at its gate,
For all eminence is hollow when a man has met his fate.
The kings and queens of nations all are leveled at the door:
The careless humbled after; the prudent, well before.
Every man must have his turn here, whether viewer or display.
The wise will visit often, long before he comes to stay.
Its lessons are not easy—only easy to forget.
And it educates unkindly, for it teaches with a threat.
There is a stench of death within that reeks of things unlearned,
And familiar, foreign warnings that have suddenly returned.
The wise will smell the odor and consider the advice,
While the fragrance of the feasting-house will camouflage its price.
This deathly stench instructs me of the things I cannot learn
From life’s stifling aromas and their worldly concern.
There is a deathly flavor which the foolish cannot taste.
It bids a man to contemplate; it slows him in his haste.
The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
– Ecclesiastes 7:4
There is a house of feasting that empowers every fool
To forget his vincibility and mock this vicious rule:
Your sin will earn its wages—in years or in a breath—
The humble ‘ere remembers, and attends the house of death.
So forsake the house of feasting for a time, and come and see
That there is a house of mourning that, while costly, now is free.
There prepare yourself, by mourning, for the evening of your day,
For your sun will set as swiftly as an eagle to its prey.
This house is like a scholar who can speak in every tongue,
And it crosses generations—from the old unto the young.
It needs no translation into culture or to race.
For instinct hears its warning, and wisdom knows its grace.
It will not entertain you, for that never was its goal.
But the house of mourning visited will sensitize your soul.
The pleasure-house is happier for those pursuing glee,
But a funeral gives vision to the veiled who want to see.
Not all who go have been there, for this house must have your heart.
The wise will linger long and, when he leaves, will not depart.
The fool will go directly to his house for some relief,
But the prudent man will ponder the instruction of his grief.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
– James 4:13-16
This is the house of mourning—it will wake you up, and quick.
And it just may make you healthy, even though it makes you sick.
This is the house of mourning; it awakens all the numb.
For the dead will teach the living if the living will but come.
O God, the house of mourning is a ghastly, grisly place,
But there is no substitution for this awful, shocking grace.
Oh, help me to remember when the feasting is so rife
To attend the house of mourning in the morning of my life.