Category Archives: DeathandResurrection Should be One Word.
This is my paraphrase of today’s reflection by Richard Rohr: The Sign of Jonah
There is a flow to our spiritual journey. There are times of grace when we experience Love of God’s presence with joy. But for the journey to transform us we must, like Jonah, spend time in darkness. Our spiritual lives are journeys of deaths and resurrections as recurring stages of darkness, grace, growth and new life. This is the pattern Jesus promises us and we see it in other traditions as well. Native religions speak of winter and summer; mystical authors speak of darkness and light; Eastern religions speak of yin and yang or the Tao. Christians call it the paschal mystery: all point to the same necessity of descent and ascent. We are transformed through death and rising many times in our life.
Usually, it is a loss that takes us there. Sometimes the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a career setback, or sudden financial insecurity. The American dream of a steady ascent without failure or loss is a delusion spiritually. Mature religion teaches us how to enter with trust the difficult periods of life. Knowing we are not alone and that this is the crucible of transformation opens us to the grace for growth and transformation. These hard passages are good teachers.
Our first reaction is to try to change events so we can avoid changing ourselves. Learning to stay with the pain of life, without answers, even some days without meaning is the hidden path of contemplative prayer. Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to a momentary sense of meaninglessness in which we ask, “What is it all for?” But this spaciousness within the question allows Love to fill and enliven us.
A quote from another priest, Father Powell : “ PassionDeathResurrection should be all one word” sums it up.
A personal experience may illustrate this. My husband made an ethical decision that caused us to have to start over in business. We lost our original investment in the company he and two others had started and in the following year a recession hit and our new business had almost no clients. I got a job as Associate Director of Religious Education for the Chaplains Division at Fort Campbell that helped us stay afloat, but we gradually had to sell all our investments and even our wedding silver. We had to learn how to heat with a wood burning stove and fireplace. We almost lost our home. Our children got jobs, scholarships based on ability, and did without the extras most of their contemporaries had at college. We even had to put plastic over our roof, since we couldn’t afford to repair leaks. We lived out in the country in the woods, so I hoped no one would notice. But since we were in a direct line to the local airport, I found out our plastic had become a direction sign for airplanes. We all learned new ways of being. Christmases brought out the best in all of us as we tried to make them good for our youngest child who still believed in Santa. Over and over small miracles in moments of crises reminded us that God was still with us. Every New Year’s Eve, we would say hopefully, “Well, next year is going to be better.” The seventh year on New Year’s Eve, we sighed and said, “Well, we’re getting a whole lot stronger!” That year things got better. Some of my best memories are from those seven years. I think they made all of us better people and they definitely increased my faith. I have a collection of stories of life challenges and spiritual transformations. And at eighty-five I expect to have more challenges to depend on grace to grow so I can become the person God created me to be.
For me, this inner peace in the middle of sorrow and pain has become harder, because in my early spiritual journey, I could sense the presence of Jesus in the room even when I was in physical pain or emotional turmoil. And often joy came even in pain or heartbreak. But at least those memories help me know that even when I now feel alone, I am not.
Mirabai Starr finds inspiration in mystics Julian of Norwich (1343–c. 1416) and John of the Cross (1542–1591).
“Both endured profound suffering and yet discovered a deep and Divine love in its midst. What does a religious woman who dwelt in an anchor-hold during the Middle Ages have to do with you and me today? Julian endured a long and cruel pandemic. The disease ravaged her community and carried off the people that she loved. She learned to shelter in place, focusing on cultivating her interior landscape and sharing the fruits of her wisdom through the window that opened from her cell onto the busy streets of her city (think computer screen and Zoom), where she offered counsel to visitors . . . each day.
She found solace, not in the wrathful father-god of her childhood, but in an unconditionally loving Mother-God who could not help but forgive the transgressions of each one of her darling kids. She recognized that everything that is could be contained in a hazelnut in the palm of God’s hand, and that it all endures because God adores every particle of Her creation. She also realized that, even though the night feels impenetrable now, dawn is coming, when we will see with our own eyes that not only is every little thing going to be alright, but that it has been all along.
And how could a renegade monk, who survived the Spanish Inquisition despite the Jewish and Moorish blood that flowed through his veins, have anything to teach us about flourishing in our own dark nights? John of the Cross illumines the transformational power of radical unknowing. He rekindles our latent longing for union with the Beloved and, through sublime poetry and precise prose, blows on the flames so that they dance back to life in our beleaguered hearts.
He reminds us that when everything in us wants to rush out and fix the problem of our brokenness, both individual and collective, the wisest and most loving thing to do is to be still, letting go of our attachment to the way we thought the spiritual life was supposed to feel and the sense we assumed it should make. Once we step out of our own way, into the dark and empty vessel of the soul, “an ineffable sweetness” will begin to rise, permeating and nourishing the quiet earth, uncovering a resurrection we never dreamed possible: a dazzling darkness, a radiant night, a revolutionary newness of being.
But maybe not quite yet.
We are not alone. The wise ones who walked before us have left luminous footprints for us to follow in our own apocalyptic times.”
Dying is messy. Most people don’t manage to die with their hair styled or tidily in their best suit and tie. Looking good isn’t what death is about.
Dying is often painful, both emotionally and physically. Even those, who find peace from acceptance or joy from a sense of God’s loving presence, struggle before getting to that point. Dying isn’t comfortable.
Dying is not a social event. It sometimes brings feelings of rejection, because some of our family and friends aren’t ready to face the reality of death, so they may get very busy elsewhere.
Dying is scary and lonely. Only a few have lived to tell about it. And though our loved ones may hold our hand, we know we must go alone.
Dying is an experience of total helplessness. No matter how rich or competent or powerful we are in life, dying wipes out the last illusion that we are in control.
Dying is the final cross. Not one we carry, but one we hang on, suspended between heaven and earth wondering if we’ve been abandoned on both sides.
Yet dying is the doorway to life. It’s a very narrow gate and it’s the only gate out.
The true Christian life (not the insurance game or the private club versions) is a series of deaths and resurrections that prepare us for that final one.
Deaths and resurrections such as:
Letting go of our need to look good by hiding behind masks: becoming free to be our truest and fullest self.
Letting go of our illusion of security from belonging to the right group: finding brothers and sisters where we never thought to look.
Letting go of our anesthetic of choice; work, competition, television, twitter, legalism, consumerism, food, sex, alcohol: by allowing ourselves to feel deeply the fears and sorrows of our lives, becoming capable of joy and love.
Letting go of our dependency on others: parents, spouses, friends, or anyone else for validation; recognizing the Spirit of God within our own hearts.
Letting go of needing talents, ministries, and achievements to feel valuable: finding inner peace from the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus.
Letting go of everything as Jesus did:
“Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” John 12:24-26
So, this is where it both ends and begins for us, on the cross with Jesus, being taken by Him through the doorway of death to eternal life.