In a sense, the message that comes out of the Judeo-Christian tradition is not very attractive. Fr. Richard Rohr asks, “How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability and non-success?” The Old Testament is full of laments from the people who were captured by their enemies and taken into exile. And the New Testament points to death and the Resurrection. There’s not much of the Dale Carnegie message in either one. It seems, then, that God doesn’t call us to be successful, but rather to be faithful.
The wise among us can see early in life that these physical bodies don’t last very long. The Psalmist says, “Life is like a vapor that you see in the morning, but in the evening it disappears.” That shouldn’t depress us if we realize that between the “bookends” of life and death is a wonderful gift. That you “are” is a great affirmation. Life is a gift that we didn’t ask for, nor deserve. We had nothing to do with the color of our skin, the country in which we were born, or the family we grew up in. They are gifts.
Death is like a mother. To a child, a mother is a place where life begins. She becomes the center of life; the navel of the earth, the sacred space. We name it “Mother Earth”. Mother represents birth; life surrounding life. Without mother, the birthing door could not be opened, and life would cease to be. With mother, the door to life is open and we are invited to live our “slice of eternity”, despite the suffering and pain that comes with it. Likewise, death is necessary for the “ongoingness” of life. We progress from one stage to another; from this life to another dimension, as seen in the cycles of nature. The tadpole becomes a frog, the caterpillar morphs into the butterfly, the stalk of corn comes from the seed, and a spiritual metamorphosis takes place. Death gives birth to something better, more fulfilling than we have ever known in this dimension.
If death is like a birth canal, then life comes out of death, as a fullness comes out of emptiness. But according to Freud, most people live under the illusion that death will happen to everyone except them. It’s difficult and almost impossible to conceptualize your own death. Of course, death can be traumatic and earthshaking. It can come too soon and appears as an unwanted intruder. But death can also be a blessing, especially when it relives a person of terrible pain and endless hours of loneliness. It is liberating to know that God has provided a way for us when our bodies are no longer useful to us.
We have just come out of a long and record-breaking winter. All of a sudden, it’s spring. When winter gives way to spring, we are blessed with the newness of life. It is a kind of resurrection. Life begins again in a different way. It is like a rhythm that continues. Some of us can go through an emotion winter, which can include loneliness, despair or depression, and we welcome the warmness of the sun. New life springs up all around us, and love is poured out from the Creator God. We feel renewed and hopeful again.
The teachings of the Scripture are centered more on what happens on this side of the grave than the other side. God’s living presence makes heaven a reality now. It is a relationship we can begin today as we deepen our understanding of the infinite possibilities of joy and self-giving. I cringe when I hear shallow dispensers of miracles—people peddling sensationalism, exploiting human suffering and making unreasonable claims about life and death and the hereafter. I stand it aw of those who say they have been to Heaven and back. But I can’t help but wonder about their claims and “discoveries” about Heaven.
I am not searching for a god who will serve as a rescuer from every crisis, nor a nursemaid for each emergency. I am not looking for a god who will demonstrate how I can turn stones into bread, nor how I can jump from a high place and not be injured or killed. Jesus did not want to be known as a “temple jumper” either. Rather, I am looking for the wisdom to accept the cycles of life and death, birth and rebirth. I want the miracle of joy, love and self-acceptance. I am not searching for signs that will contradict the laws of nature. I am not searching for inerrancy or infallibility of Holy Scriptures, but for the truth, wherever it can be found.
A woman came to her pastor, greatly worried because she was afraid to die. “Are you afraid of dying today?” he inquired. “No, I don’t think so,” she responded. “Well,” he continued, “God gives you living grace while you live, and when you die, God will give you dying grace.”
2 Corinthians 5:1 is reassuring: “We have a home, not made with human hands, but eternal in the Heavens.” Thanks be to God.