Thursday, April 05, 2007

Some Thoughts about Mortality for Holy Week

Before I share my thoughts on this topic, I want to reassure you that I'm not feeling gloomy or sad today, and in fact, I've had a little "steroid energy buzz" that led me to sort through some clothes in the closet to give away. I'm about ready for a nap, so it's not an excessive buzz, but except for nausea and vomiting first thing this morning, I'm feeling good. But this post isn't about my physical state; I just wanted to provide that reassurance.

On the Christian calendar, Holy Week marks the last days of Jesus' life on earth, including Maundy Thursday (today) which commemorates the Last Supper, and Good Friday when we remember the crucifixion. Then, the joyous day of resurrection is celebrated on Easter. Easter is an upbeat holiday, both spiritually and secularly, and so many of us love to celebrate Easter, but may skip over the more serious days leading up to it. But these days of Holy Week are somber and call for inner reflection. Since I've been doing a lot of that over past months, it fits my state of mind to think about mortality during Holy Week.

From a book of daily readings by Madeline L'Engle that I treasure comes this poem, which I read on Monday of this week before meditation.

From St. Luke's Hospital (2)

If I can learn a little how to die,
To die while body, mind, and spirit still
Move in their triune dance of unity,
To die while living, dying I'll fulfill
The purpose of the finite in infinity.
If God will help me learn to die today,
Today in time I'll touch eternity,
And dying, thus will live within God's Way.
If I can free myself from self's iron bands,
Free from myself not by myself, but through
Christ's presence in this simple room, in hands
Outstretched in holy friendship, then, born new
In death, truth will outlive the deathly lie,
And in love's light I will be taught to die."

(from Madeline L'Engle, Glimpses of Grace, p. 80)

"To die while living, dying I'll fulfill / The purpose of the finite in infinity." What is the purpose of our short finite lives, spiritually and philosophically speaking? Our purpose along a stream of time that goes back farther than we can imagine and into the future over time we can't conceive of? We can so easily got caught in thinking that life is meant to be easy, to be happy, to be successful (however we define that). But what if life is about none of those things, really?

During Lent, about fifteen of us from church have been meeting in a book discussion group to talk about the book "Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life," which I've linked to almost from the beginning of my blog. In our discussions, I've talked with the group about my experience since the diagnosis of gallbladder cancer of taking on my mortality, and wondering about the purpose of life. That has included wondering whether or not we humans may be just plain wrong about why we are here. It's a heavy notion, it's difficult to articulate. In his book, Simmons comments on this idea, in a wonderful chapter entitled "Mud Season:"

"Before my illness I, like everyone, had always spent much my time in the mud, only I didn't know to value it. Mud seemed only to block my way. I had spent my life in pursuit of knowledge and happiness, only to find out that both were overrated. For what is knowledge without faith, and what is happiness without sorrow? The path to resurrection lies through the mud because only through pain and sorrow do we grasp the necessary truth offered in the Ninetieth Psalm" [which he quotes from, but I won't; it's about our mortality].

On a much lighter note, the question makes me think of the greeting card sold in alternative stores that says "What IF the hokey pokey is what it's all about?"

I have no answers these questions, or solutions to my ponderings. I do think that life is much more complex and mysterious than many/most of us think, and certainly than I have thought most of my life. We so easily look in all of the wrong places for what will be most deeply fulfilling, and then feel surprised when we are still unsatisfied. In the last 10+ months, I have made quite a few changes to my life, in response to my diagnosis, my energy, and my shifted sense of priorities. I still miss some of the things I used to find quite satisfying, and I'm also finding a new sense of peace with this slower pace, with more time for contemplation, and for the opportunity to connect with others that my disease, and this blog, have provided.

Holy Week offers us the chance to think about our mortality, and how we live our lives. Whether or not you identify as a Christian, the fact that this one man chose to give his life for others, and then, in his resurrection, founded a whole new religious faith based on love of neighbor and God, is a powerful teaching. In the stories of his last days, we hear the human Jesus struggling with his destiny. Since my diagnosis, I have resonated many times with these words of Jesus, spoken in Gethsemane on the night before he died, "My Father, if is possible, may this cup be taken from me, yet not as I will, but as you will." So many times in these months I have wished not to be sick, not to have gallbladder cancer, not to have a terminal diagnosis. Slowly, I have come, if not to fully accept this diagnosis, at least to accept that this is the hand dealt now, and my choice is how I deal with it.

May the deep lessons of Holy Week touch you this year as they have me, and may you find, emerging from the mud of this somber week, that Easter is especially joyous.


Elaine Pascale said...

Wow! I'm a bit surprised by the theme of this blog as it has been a big part of my thoughts this week--and of my dream life. I had a dream tuesday night that is a recurring dream about my dad. I always dream that he gets little "reprieves" from Heaven. If I didn't have the "proof" of pictures of my mother pregnant, I would swear I was a clone of my father. And when we reunite in dreams, it is wonderful. But the dreams always end with my crying because I am sad that he is missing out on his grandchildren. He is always baffled by this and can't understand my grief. I realized this time, that that is because his sense of time is different from mine and his sense of priority is very different in his purely spiritual state. I think he is still a part of his grandchildrens' lives, so my need for some physical interraction is so "human." So, that got me to thinking about this flesh, bones and blood state (which I firmly enjoy!!) and what it means. You really got me thinking, Lynne, and, as usual, helped me to organize my jumbled thoughts. Must be your teacher's soul.

Anonymous said...

the mystery to me is why it takes something grim to reach the state of connection with others that we need so desperately- it is a scary thought for what it will take for the world to move towards peace- the blackness that it may take to move to a better place- WHY ??? must we wait ??? why??? must it take traumatic events to move us to our fullest humanity ????
ahhhh, i, too, have no answers, only questons- but i, too, am ever so grateful for the connections that have been gained through your journey, lynnne, and my journey with lexie- those intense connections mean so much to me now !!!!
love this entry-
love you-

Sandy said...

very powerful...thank you Lynne, Elaine, and Alice for a thought provoking start to Good Friday.

Anonymous said...

Well Lynne,
You've struck a subject I have had much time to think about. When I was 27 ( omg....light years ago~!) I lost my best friend at confidante, my partner in malignant melanoma. It happened quickly...and in denial, gave us no time to realize and admit we even needed to talk about it and say goodbye. Something I still regret. HOWEVER...since then....and in the course of losing quite a few friends, relatives, students and so forth...I have been struck with the idea that perhaps..we need to realize that each mortal dies in one way or another at some point in their life. We don't get to choose sometimes baffles us as to it's timing...young, old, perfectly healthy in the middle of a jog in the morning, in the quiet of the night. We have hopefully learned our lessons and taught our lessons and worked through the spiritual lessons we were meant to experience in this life and in the final act of leaving our mortal bodies we reach the final footsteps of Jesus on earth. Teaching even as we lose our own mortal life and step into our eternal life.
I agree with Elaine that our mortal worries and anguish are simply that...mortal.As we lose our life and become one with the holy spirit we no longer can identify with the pain of living on earth.Part of the blessing of heaven I'm guessing!
I believe that being "tied" to the earth ...dependent on it...with all it's short-comings...having to save it..having to nourish it....having to learn to love eachother or perish with our all part of the lessons we were left with in order to reach Enlightenment...being one with God.
Yes...I totally agree with Alice that it IS too bad that it takes "something grim to reach the state of connection with others that we need so desperately."
In each of our deaths we are becoming the same teachers that Jesus was on earth....and the students of our own lesson!
I think we need to try to "get it" ....the lesson....that we indeed do not need to carry the worry and weight of the world on our shoulders. God is with us and we need only ask for his show us the way through this "heavy" life on earth.... trust that there is always a reason for the journey...and then learn from those that have died before you. The problem mortals...we learn and then as life's trials and tribulations push us on...we forget until the next "teacher" reminds us.
Life is learning to be able to move out of your own fears and misconceptions that it is all about "me" and "my achievements" "my failures" and help others as they make their way through to the light.The trick is remembering the lessons.
I didn't mean to become so...preachy!!...HOWEVER...the short of it is... I too have had many years and tears to think about this and as I age...I think I'm finally "getting it". Maybe by the time it is my time to leave this world I will finally completely understand and accept and hopefully I will have left my footprints.
Lots of love and light, Lynne.
Thank you for this blog.
What a treasure you are!!
Happy Easter to all!
( I feel like I have this huge discussion with all of you...isn't it lovely??)

Anonymous said...

Lynne, thanks for sharing these deep thoughts. crow

noone said...

Hi Lynne! :)

I was going to email you but can't find an email address.

Just wanted to say I'm so glad to see your usual positive postings :)

You're doing great! {{Hug}}

Anonymous said...

Hi Lynne, we send our love and prayers for you and Patty and Lucy and Nathaniel. Andrea