Discussion Questions: The Death of Ivan Ilyich Liturgy of Life Reading Group

Liturgy of Life Reading Group
This happened! The first physical meeting of the Liturgy of Life Reading Group. We had a small but mighty gathering and we are looking forward to more. If you are thinking about a book club consider gathering a few friends to read along with the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.

 

For those of you who are reading along in Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich with the Liturgy of Life Reading Group, I wanted to share the questions we used in our discussion.  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

1. Is the moment of Ivan’s death a triumph or a failure? For example, he declares: “Death is finished. It is no more.” Is this a positive or negative statement?
2. Discuss the significance of the title. If the work professes to be about Ivan’s death, why is it almost entirely dedicated to Ivan’s life?
3. Is Gerasim a type of Christ? What do we learn about caring for the dying from him?
4. What did you think of the black bag as a symbol?
5. What has been/is/should be the Christian response to an illness that can not be cured?

6. How does our society view/treat those at the end of life is this consistent with the Christian faith?
6. Do you think Ivan would have reached the same conclusion at the end of his life if it had not been for the suffering that came with his dying? Is suffering good? Is it bad?
7. How does this story inform our approach to suffering among the living? Among those who are in their last days? Do you think the last days of someone’s life can be meaningful/valuable even if they involve suffering? Does this inform our response to the movement towards physician assisted suicide?
8. Was Ivan’s suffering primarily physical, spiritual or emotional? What about in your own experience or in watching others, what type of suffering is most significant or is this an impossible separation?
9. How does suffering when it does not result in death affect our spiritual life? What should the Christian response be to suffering?

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For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

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Accidental Poetry: Tolstoy and Me Liturgy of Life Reading Group

I haven’t intentionally written a poem since graduating high school. While I have come to love reading poetry aloud with my family it remains mostly a mysterious art. So it took me by surprise when I was preparing for the Liturgy of Life Reading group and looked down to see several poems on my page.

As I read our latest book Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich I jotted down phrases and ideas that seemed to characterize each chapter as I went along.  I enjoyed seeing how my highlighted phrases told the story of Ivan’s progression.  Liking what I saw I narrowed the words and phrases down even more to create a simple summary. Unexpectedly  what appeared on my page looked like several simple poems which had originating in Tolstoy’s words and had been edited down by me.

If you are a real poet I don’t know that this process is much to get excited about, but I felt like I had discovered an entirely new way to interact with my reading material and as if I was collaborating with the great mind of Tolstoy on a new project.  I am sharing a few here not because they are great works but rather as an encouragement and a hope that new ways to love learning will sneak up on you. And that this book in particular would challenge you in some new direction.

Chapter 4

It was his own rage killing him,

it was his fault,

edge of destruction

alone.

Chapter 6

Constant despair

all is exposed

face to face

staring at death

it could penetrate anything

stare at it and go cold

Chapter 8

Hateful death

dirt disorder

anguish

loathing

terrified of being alone.

Chapter 9

Tears like a child,

helpless

alone

pleasures melted to something disgusting.

Maybe I didn’t live as I should have?

Chapters 10, 11 and 12

What is this?

Life is a series of increasing sufferings.

Have I really been wrong?

all wrong?

Struggling against the black sack,

terrified.

What is the right thing?

It could still be put right.

Instead of death there was light.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

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On Living with Dying Liturgy of Life Reading Group: Reflections on Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich

This week in our reading group we began Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  It shouldn’t surprise us by the title that the book begins with the death of its main character.  We find Ivan Ilyich in his coffin and the funeral about to start.  Meanwhile Tolstoy introduces us to the people in Ivan’s life, his friend’s like Pytor Ivanovich, his wife and family.  Some are grief struck, others are wondering if the funeral will disrupt their game of cards or more importantly if Ivan’s death will affect them financially.
On Living with the dying: Liturgy of Life Reading Group: Reflections on Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich

 

“Apart from the speculations aroused in each of them by this death, concerning the transfers and possible changes that this death might bring about, the very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always a feeling of delight that he had died and they hadn’t.

‘There you have it. He’s dead, and I’m not’  was what everyone thought or felt.”

 

a few pages later . . .

 

“He had changed a good deal; he was even thinner than be had been when Pytor Ivanovich had last seen him, but, as with all dead bodies, his face had acquired greater beauty, or, more to the point, greater significance, than it had had in life. Its expression seemed to say that what needed to be done had been done, and done properly. More than that, the expression contained a reproach or at least a reminder to the living. The reminder seemed out of place to Pyotr Ivanovich, or at least he felt it didn’t apply to him personally. But an unpleasant feeling came over him, and he crossed himself again, hurriedly- too hurriedly, he thought, the haste was almost indecent- before turning and heading for the door.”

 

I admit I know the feeling of self preservation that Tolstoy describes, dashing through my mind, too quick to stop, every wave of sympathy is paired with pure selfishness, “at least the shooting wasn’t at my kid’s school,” “at least it wasn’t my husband who died in the car crash,” “at least I don’t have breast cancer.” It seems there is a deeply rooted human impulse to protect oneself from disaster before allowing oneself to share in the grief of another.  And I wonder if it is this very attitude which leaves so many feeling isolated and forgotten during times of sorrow.

In my other reading I’ve been working through a book on the history of Christian Hospitality.  In it the author develops the idea of “cultivating marginality” that is, intentionally developing in ourselves a solidarity and familiarity with those on the margins, whether they are there due to illness or violence or economics.  This idea has deep roots in our Christian heritage.  We have always been a people called to move away from comfortable places. We use  disciplines of fasting and prayer, alms giving and  service of the poor to accomplish it.   We are intentional to align ourselves with discomfort until it becomes a familiar place so that the suffering can find themselves comforted by one who understands grief and be aided in encountering the true Comforter.

Ivan Ilych knows more about this than any of us.  He has fought the final battle, he has crossed over from death to life and  faced  head on the reality that fills us with constant dread, that one day we too shall die.  Ultimately those of us living will not know the realities of death until it is our turn. But we have opportunity now to follow in the path of our Christian fathers and mothers and align ourselves with those who suffer, not to turning our faces away in fear or self protection and not to distracting ourselves with entertainment or worries of the world.   Ivan’s knowing face would probably make all of us who live a life trying to flee the realities of death feel uncomfortable because we are intended to live differently, to engage with the marginalized, to sit at the bedside of the dying, to consider the immigrant our friend and in this we will ease the pain of those who suffer and perhaps even prepare ourselves for our own end when it comes.

This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. We would love for you to join us.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.