Let’s Get Dying, Shall We??

“If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, you must pick up your cross and follow in my footsteps.”
Those of us who claim to be “Christian”, who say we’re his disciples, have to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow in his way. We have to follow him into pain, suffering, rejection, challenges and even death–and then we’ll find liberation. Oh. My. God.
Change the channel, I can’t stand to watch this one again. I’ve seen it a hundred times. The hero, the justice seeker, peace make and savior, my best bud, the one I’m really eager to see become successful decides instead to suffer and die. Change the channel, I’m not up for this. Don’t give me Jesus, give me Marlan Perkins. Why can’t we watch Wild Kingdom, or some other long gone entertaining program?? I don’t want anybody telling me that suffering and death are the inevitable; especially my suffering, and my death. I don’t want to know. Distract me. Distract me from the pain and the suffering. Change the channel. Find me something more interesting, more uplifting, more hopeful, more cheerful.
Ever since my father shared his passion for WW2 history with me, I’ve been very interested in historical stuff. Maybe some would call it child abuse, but I remember watching black and white films on large spools with my dad, watching highlights of the war and the liberation of Paris and the terrible grainy images from the death camps.
Later, when I traveled to France with students to Utah Beach and Arromanche, listening to the granddaughter of one of the builders of that man-made port explaining how the war had impacted her family, I was moved beyond words. But I also knew something she wasn’t telling us, namely that the French had largely collaborated with the Nazis when it came to getting rid of the Jews. And I wondered how many French really knew what effect their hatred had had? Did they know what was going on in the camps? Did they know what was being done by their own French National Police, in their name? And if they knew, what did they do? Did they act?
Or did they say nothing?
We can dream about the Reign of God, a world where everyone has enough and where the planet is protected, and all creatures thrive, but that’s all it is– a dream. But we keep dreaming it because it’s the dream God has given every one of us: it’s part of our deepest selves. It’s in our literature and art, our theatre and dance, our films and music. That dream has impelled countless people to invent, think, theologize and phiolsophize. It’s a dream that despite humanity’s best and worst efforts will not die. Yes, the dream has suffered untold defeats,but somehow the dream lives on. The dream lives on because we are fear made in the imago dei, the image of the One Love that made us. Yes, we are capable of despicable things. Yes, we are responsible for the injustices in this world. But we are also capable of such beauty, such truth, such life, and our capacity for greatness means that the dream lives.
But there can be no life without death. There is no resurrection without crucifixion. Unless we are prepared to die there can be no rebirth. We are, after all is said and done, completely human. And we’re different from every other creature because unlike them, our consciousness is defined by the knowledge that we are going to die. From dust we came and to dust we shall return. Being human means learning how to die. In fact, the most important for our being here is this need to learn how to die.
This isn’t as dark or crazy as it sounds, trust me on that! Some of our early philosophers like Plato and Seneca insisted that this was true. In fact, Seneca writes that the only way for humans to unlearn their slavery is for them to learn how to die. Wow. What can that possibly mean?
Learning how to die frees us from slavery to our distractions. So consider this: any time we examine our assumptions or biases, whenever we question the way we view the world and decide to change it, that’s a form of death. There is no growth, no development, no maturation, no rebirth without death. When we go into the wilderness and confront the wild beasts in ourselves and in our world we have to be brave and let old ideas die so new ones can shape us. The idea that there is nothing that we can do to change the world enslaves us to quiet acceptance of things exactly as they are. In other words, we accept the world as we have made it to be.
What needs to die in our hearts today so the dream of real peace and justice can be reborn? Justice by itself, of course, is impossible because justice has to be midwifed into existence by love. LOVE births justice. LOVE is the power that lies at the heart of all reality. LOVE is the source of the courage we all need in order to die. LOVE gives us the courage to let our suffering speak to us.
Yes, the world’s problems are immense. Yes, the suffering is intense. Yes, we have tried and failed so many times. Yes, we are only one person. Yes, there are untold reasons to be cynical and do nothing, but…the courage to pay attention to the world around us will come from the LOVE that lives in each of us. And we will find love for ourselves, for our sisters and brothers, even the ones we now call our enemies.
Like Peter, I don’t want to follow where Jesus is leading either. I very much want to deny death. I want to change the channel and lose myself in something else—anything else!! But then I take a breath and in the stillness I feel the attraction of that LOVE that first called me by name as a young boy, the voice of that LOVE whose voice I heard tell me in church, when I was 8 yrs old, that I was his priest and that I belonged to Him.
So I can’t just turn away or tune out. I can’t let my distractions lead me to deny death. And like every other person I know, I have to let all the pain and loss of my life inform my heart. I have to allow the LOVE that lives in me to give me the courage to let all of it speak to me on the deepest level. Because my pain isn’t unique: it’s part of the death and dying process of all my sisters and brothers. It’s the necessary dying part before new life can come about.
They said Germany would never recover after the war. They said the Berlin Wall would never come down. They said civil rights would never come to the American south. They said apartheid in South Africa would never end. They said gays and lesbians were mentally ill and would never be allowed to marry. They said women could never be pastors, and that Catholic priests could never be pastors of a Protestant congregation. They say a lot of things that are untrue.
So, begone, Satan! Get outta here, you and your nattering nabobs of negativity! I’m going to allow God to help me clean out my presuppositions, cynicism, prejudices, and blindspots so they can all die. They need to die in order that Love can be born in me again. I pray I have the courage to listen to all of my own suffering and the suffering around me so I can finally allow all my fear, doubt and excuses die, in order that LOVE be born again. That’s the Easter earthquake in a nutshell. That’s resurrection. That’s collateral beauty from all the damage we’ve managed to do.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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