Friday, October 12, 2012

O Death, where is thy Sting?

I have been avoiding blogging.  Oh, I have done the Friday Five with Revgals but I have been unable to put my own ideas down for some weeks now.  Part of it has been due to the move and lots have been due to the accident.  The loss of a life in an accident in which you are part tends to change many things.  I can't say that I am experiencing depression due to the death of the motorcyclist who hit us while we were on vacation.  But it is sobering.

I want to be over this.  I want to be over the injury and the memories.   But I believe that such an incident stops much of the glibness of social comment.  It is truly a theological event.  Life and death always are theological events.  The loss of a young man's life is deeply sorrowful.  There is a temptation to blame in such an event.  Blame the foolishness of motorcycles or the idiocy of not wearing a helmet or driving too fast.  But blame is NOT a theological event.  Blame is what we do when we cannot deal with the theological event of death.  Blame or guilt is part of the process of grief.  It is part of the avoidance of dealing with death as a theological event.

Avoiding the relationship between God and humanity just serves to prolong the guilt/blame so that one does not come to resolution about the greatness of God and God's welcoming of the soul.  And I believe I have been trying to do that.  Looking into the abyss of death is scary.  It is the kind of mystery that cannot be explained away.  It can only be assuaged by being willing to stand at the edge of the chasm filled with sorrow without falling in.  Standing at the abyss and looking in or across, is being willing to appreciate my own humanity, salvation and my own faith without becoming triumphant.  It is being willing to know of the sorrow of others, the heartbreak of another's family.  But also it is to know deeply that life is worth living because of risk.

As I have said before I do not subscribe to the theology that God has a plan for me.  I do believe that God interacts with us and is a part of our lives but I do not believe that I am part of a playbook.  That is just too Calvinistic for this catholic girl.  I believe that the Incarnation means that I am able to reflect and find spiritual value in the things that happen.  So life in many cases is lived retrospectively.  I am constantly trying to make sense of what happens in my life so that I can find Christ in it.

Christ was certainly in this event.  The loving God was present to us in the helping hands of those who came to our aid.  The God of goodness was present even in our numbness and injury.  But the loving God I know also stood transporting the young man into that goodness that goes beyond life.

Now, I am messing with real theology.  Death and evil have always been linked together in theology.  And yet you can't get to heaven without death.  So what gives?  Is death good or evil?  I don't think it is either.  Death is a part of what it means to be human.  It is part of life that Christ came to sanctify and make holy.  So death is holy just as surely as birth.  But it is an event that those who are not dying must observe with reverence and awe.  Do I believe in heaven and hell?  Not really.  But I do believe in an afterlife.  I do believe that there is something beyond death simply because I believe the promises of God.  I don't care to meditate on that afterlife because I believe that it will be much more than I can even imagine.  But I also believe that God has sanctified humanity in Jesus and consequently all life is sacred in the sense that God made us.

What does that mean when we face death or see death?  Should we be matter-of-fact in the face of death?  That doesn't make sense either.  Death is more of a portal--a point of awe.  Does the release of that remarkable gift of humanity into the realm of the Everlasting demand our attention?  Yes!  It is that unique moment in every person's life when encountering the Divine without the obscurities of living happens.  The abyss becomes not a hole into which we fall, but that incredible moment when we fly as we have dreamed all our lives.  

At times in my pastoral life I have been present when people have died.  There is a sense of release always--the struggle to live is given up and the human body surrenders. Muslims understand that moment as the final Islam--the final surrender to Allah.  But as a Christian I recognize death as that stepping into the Unknown and the Unknowable. The abyss is crossed and the soul or whatever you want to call that life force enters that Unknown  It is a holy moment.  It is not necessarily a lovely moment, but it is a sacred moment in which one who is observing can almost feel the change.  And ultimately there is a sense of awe for those who have witnessed this change.  Those who witness this change are also changed.  It is impossible not to be changed.  The reaction to this being changed is often not what we expect--we deny, we are angry, we bargain, we are depressed.  All of those stages that Kubler-Ross said were about grief.  But it isn't grief necessarily that we are experiencing--it is the traumatic experience of awe--of standing before the greatest Power of the Universe.  It is a fierce experience of the Holy that we would rather not meet and yet must for our experience of God to be more than just pablum.  The God that I know is more powerful than Death and consequently to see that power at work is traumatic.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul chastises the Gentiles for not seeing the God of Israel in nature where the acts of God can be seen.  Yes, humanity is often moved by the phenomenon Nature.  I do not deny the beauty of the Earth or the Universe as being evidence of God.  But it is the rawness of death that makes us wonder about the theological nature of death.  Is it of God?  I think so.  Death is the encounter with the Holy in such a way that truly takes the breath away.  And leaves observers humbled about their own mortality.

But writing about Death seems to be so disrespectful.  What we observe on this side of the Death/Life continuum is paltry.  And yet if I do not write of it, how can I honor it and the power the fear of it has for us?  I can dance around theological questions but am never able to come to any decision in this case.  It is the Unknowable that I fear and yet must place in the care of the God who created me.  I do not know the day or time--nor does anyone.  I do not know what it will mean.  I hope--and therein lies my faith that the God who creates is also the God of the death that I will one day experience.  And while I fear that Unknown, I do not fear the God I already know in the breaking of the bread.


Rev. Liz Moen said...

How timely this is for me as I prepare for a memorial service for a young man who died in a motorcycle accident. You have already offered me wisdom in another venue about that service. This too is helpful. Peace be with you.

Fran said...

This post is so beautiful - I have no words, simply my gratitude for your expression here.

And prayers, lots of prayers.

(having computer issues, if this is a duplicate comment, please ignore)

altar ego said...

This is exquisite. Tender, edgy, risky, loving, accepting, gentle, visceral, boundary-nudging, necessary. I don't believe I've ever read anything like this. People do tend to write about grief, either because we need to be comforted or seek to comfort others. But you're right, no one seems to write about death or the experience of staring into its face or have it grab you by the throat. This is not only what we need to reflect upon in moments of idle thoughtfulness, but also have addressed when a community gathers at the edge of what you describe when it mourns. This puts flesh, if you'll pardon a term that describes life, onto the bones of death so that we can stand to consider its power and mystery.

This is an absolute keeper. Thank you for writing it and sharing it.

Gus said...

*sigh* Now I have that duet stuck in my head.

I've never thought of death as evil. How can it be? It just is.

I like your description of death as a portal. That's how I've been thinking of it for some time now.