I want us to think about death, yet death is the most ignored reality in our thinking, shoved into some box in the attic of our minds. We ignore it – yet death is never far from our consciousness and a frequent experience in our lives.
We experience the death of childhood dreams, the death of innocence when we first become aware of evil and the hurt we inflict on others. We experience the death of expectation, the departure of friends, the wind-up of our working days. All sorts of death.
We nod at the death of world figures and multitudes of anonymous people whose deaths take up three seconds on the news. Death plays a daily role in the movies, in books and on TV. Death surrounds us. Then comes the day when we are told yes, you have cancer; yes, illness will sap your energies and limit your future. Or we are in an accident that was a millisecond from taking our life.
We do get fearful when death draws close – our own or that of loved ones. Then some of us dare to reach out for faith and try to wrap it around us:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
If we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him.
Christ has conquered death. Of whom shall I be afraid?
After Lazarus died and Jesus finally got there, Jesus told Martha “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Martha replied on behalf of us all, “Yes, Lord. I do believe.”
If we let it, the Word flows over us in our fears, washing them away, so we dare to sing: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears from death into life.”
A friend of mine lost her husband two years ago. Since then grief has been the lens through which she has viewed daily life, although she hid it well. On the phone the other day, she said “Last night I talked with God about how I am living. Then I stopped talking and listened to God. God said. Live!”
Yes, live. We’ve just passed All Souls Day, the feast of the tenacity of life. The ones who have gone on before us are both with God and with us still. As one of our loved ones dies, both they and we cross a threshold – they to eternal life with God, we to life without their daily, tangible presence. At what threshold am I now standing? What am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? “Crossing a threshold is always a challenge. It calls for courage, and a sense of trust in whatever is emerging” (John O’Donohue).
In these days when death asks for our attention, will we trust God enough to believe in life, given and exchanged for new life?
~Sister Joan Sobala