Maybe the ‘me’ that must die is the ‘I-want-to-be-God me’ and maybe the ‘me’ that Christ saves and breathes life into is the ‘Made-in-God’s-likeness me’ which is totally loved and cherished by Creator, Christ and Comforter.
I am continuing the series that discusses a selection of polar opposites and takes a look at whether there has to be a duality between them. In this entry I want to look at Life and Death from a slightly different viewpoint. I will admit up front that I am no expert on death, having had very few close people in my life die, other than a handful of elderly relatives for whom death seemed to be a natural progression of their existence, albeit a sad one for those who remained. Still, I have a desire to know more about mortality, mine and others, and perhaps that is because I have not had to encounter it in its full power.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a walk, with a difference, to the top of a mountain. As we walked towards the summit of Mt. Disappointment, we went through a peculiarly fertile patch of forest. It was on the weather side of the mountain and so perhaps received more rainfall than neighbouring areas, and it probably saw very little winter sun. The ground was thick with the remains of thousands of years of falling leaves, bark and even tree trunks. The decomposing mass of vegetation was being consumed by fungi, bacteria and insects. Our feet were surrounded by the remains of so much death and decay and decomposition.
And yet this death was then the source of life for innumerable species of flora and fauna. Fungi, ferns, flowers and trees had found life and made home in this rich and fertile environment. Larger animals fed on the countless insects that had made home amongst the rich source of food.
So what was it? Was it a cemetery or a maternity ward? Of course the answer was that it was both. Death had given way to life and it was impossible to tell where one stopped and the other began. The Buddhists are familiar with this and teach on the cycle of rebirth. We in the West have mixed views on death and its finality. Some see it as a doorway to a better existence while others see it as the final step in our mortal journey.
Today I don’t want to touch on the subject of human death, but rather look at those minor “deaths” that we experience throughout our lives. Of friendships, of opportunities, of our vocation. Like a few weeks ago, I don’t want to offer empty platitudes, because some of these experiences can be grievous. But I do want to offer the idea that the death of a previous known experience can, like the forest, become fertile ground for new beginnings.
Perhaps that is what sets us apart from the animals – our ability to look beyond our immediate circumstances and glimpse a new future.
The question of why there is pain in this world has challenged people of all walks forever. Why did an omnipotent God make a Universe with disease and death in it? Why does a loving God allow pain to happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Suffering and pain challenges the faith of many people, in fact it is the reason that many completely reject the traditional view of God. Yet, curiously, there are stories of those for whom hardship brought them a sense of perspective and ultimately to a point in believing in a Deity.
I have just finished an excellent book on the subject written by a Rabbi last century. It was written from his own personal experience on the matter having raised a son with a terminal disease. He wrote about the common responses to pain, our own and others’. He wrote about the role of pain in protecting us from physical harm. He outlined how we are created with free will, and that free will can then be used to harm myself or others. He discussed random acts of nature or chance and outlined why God cannot reach down and intervene.
In the end, after much discourse, he concluded that we should not ask “why?” but rather “how do I respond?”. It was a well reasoned account and based on heartfelt emotions and it contributed some good thoughts on pain and suffering but of course, the response I make has to be my own.
Then there are other faith walks that have theologies about pain and suffering, ranging from sin as the cause of all evil, through to the role of pain in focusing our thoughts on a higher purpose or perhaps to rewards in the afterlife. Other faith systems maintain that all of the physical world is an illusion and secondary to the spiritual world and so our pain can be transcended by meditation and the pursuit of the spiritual.
In our modern world where we have found the way to alleviate, or at least dull, many forms of physical pain, it seems that emotional pain is ever-present. Is this because we are taunted by images of happiness and well-being through advertising and yet they seem elusive to most.
Perhaps of all the questions that I have asked here, this one impacts the most because it has to be faced by everyone at some point in their lives. And the fact that it is still a question and not an answer means that we all have to address it ourselves.
I have been reading quite a bit lately by mystics and meditation teachers of all stripes and I see lots of common themes merging. They all talk about the great “One”, and the overwhelming sense that we are all part of the grand cosmos. They talk of the immensity of the universe and yet the importance of the tiniest thing. They say that words and thoughts and things are part of the same common fabric. They say that death is just a transition between states.
When someone close to us dies (or even a treasured pet) there is such grief, such loss, such emptiness and a questioning of why this had to happen that I find it very hard to just say that it is a transition. Perhaps for the one dying it is a transition but for those of us left behind there is so much to deal with.
It would take a meditation GIANT, or someone with little human compassion, to be able to just shrug and say that death is part of life and that the universe has moved from one state to another state. This is what is hardest for me to accept of these other thought streams. I need an external purpose. I need a meaning for it all. I need it to MATTER.