Saturday, November 25, 2006

To embark on a Diet of Death

Praised be my Lord for our sister, the death of the body, from which no one escapes.

St. Francis of Assisi

The pursuit of the Fountain of Life, the Fountain of Youth, immortality, or the cure for death has occupied the minds and efforts of countless women and men. Wither fueled by fear, curiosity, disbelief, or love a passion is evoked when death is discussed. In our American culture we may entertain various methods or dogmas in dealing with death. We are bombarded with euphemism of death. We are told we will pass away, pass on, bite the dust, depart, fade away, go to be in heaven with our father…rarely do we hear you will die, they have died.

We dance around the topic in our culture and in the church. We will spend billions on agents and aids that guarantee us a longer life, and younger looking life. We abstractly live our lives in denial that we too shall die. We secretly are thankful that dread and death visit others… “At least it is not me.”

We are entertained with satirical looks into death and dying. We are obsessed with romance and love that spans time and lasts forever. When in reality nothing is forever and all shall perish. In a recent film I saw called The Fountain Tommy, the male lead, wrestles with mortality, love, loss, death, and sorrow. Tommy’s wife is dying. He desperately seeks to find a cure for her ailment. He tests an unknown substance from the Central American rain forest on a monkey and sees dramatic results. Tommy’s wife is writing a book about the quest to find The Tree of Life. The movie intertwines these two components along a 1,000 year time span.

The common theme is the desire to cure death. There are Buddhist and Judeo-Christian influences in the film in regards to death. The film made me ponder our fascination with death and our unwillingness to speak of it in terms of finality or concreteness. What is the difference between the solace and peace gained when engaging death in a new-age or tribal context, Scientology, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Hinduism, Santeria, Voodoo, or Baha’i as compared to the peace and solace in death revealed in Christianity?

All of these religions offer some sort of tranquility and attempt to answer the human longing for reason, purpose, and function of death. In some perspective death is the continued return on a cosmic marry go round, unable to get of until you achieve understanding and enlightenment that all is nothing and nothing is all. In others you are rightly judged by you earthly merit and subjugated to eternal punishment or paradise. To some folks death offers nothing at all, no paradise, no hell, nothing… “blank screen”

In Christianity we believe in a renewal which takes place in the acceptance and proclamation of Jesus as the Christ. In our death we are reconciled threw Jesus. We are returned to the very creation to which God enacted in the “beginning”. It would not matter to convert anyone to Christianity without this dramatic life altering renewal of Jesus. The power lies not in the brand of religion one practices, rather the radical transformation which manifests in death, bringing forth creation via Jesus.

Death does not bring forth new in the midst of old. New is eternally present, eternally available. The presence of death reveals this and its acknowledgement in living allows us to participate in life. We attempt to master and understand the why’s and what’s before we experience what death in Jesus means. We seek to reason our faith to validate the absurdity of what faith in Jesus requires of us.

To embrace Christianity absent of death makes no difference as you hold just another life draining misguided attempt at offering reconciliation absent of transformation. The only place to obtain life transformation is at the feet of the cross in the presence of Jesus as we encounter death. We must face death. In Jesus we are given courage, faith, evidence…to transcend fear. Faith does not remove fear. Faith provides in moments of fear.

What is needed is a response that fulfills in us the courage provided in faith as we face death. We must face death with new anticipation absent of the dull aestheticism which reflects in our desire to be sexy, beautiful, or handsome. The only difference between Christianity and all other religions is a faith of new in the midst of the old by which death is the vehicle of transformation. It is in this tension to which we find ourselves today. We are seeking peace, understanding, more, more, more. Yet we are ill equipped to deal with death. A human being will be ultimately judged by whether or not they have reached and can stand this tension. To endure it is more horrible and more difficult than anything else in the world. And yet, to endure it is the only way by which we can attain to the ultimate meaning, joy, and freedom in our lives. Each of us is called to endure” (Paul Tillich’s sermon, Escape from God). There is no room for a lukewarm response or ascetically pleasing visions. A diet of Death embarks us on a journey into this tension to which we are called. Anything less than this would be a waste.

1 comment:

Daniel Berry said...

This is currently more than an academic or theological question for me. I am dealing with the fact that my parents are aging--both about 80 years old. For the first time, I am confronted with the certain reality of their death--probably sooner rather than later. My mother's health is beginning to fail significantly.

I am 56 years old and have been in the ministry for 31 years. Still, there is always the question of how we will deal with certain situations when it's not just happening to someone else. Euphemism and false optimism about partial recoveries don't get it for me. Our hope is in Christ, the resurrection, the knowledge that we and our loved ones have accepted Him as Lord and Saviour. Still, we must live it!