Friday, March 2, 2012

Living and Dying

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison...   --  1 Peter 3:18b-19

I've been thinking about death lately.  That's not unusual for Lent.  Lent is the time in which we remember the way Jesus gave himself entirely over to God's loving will, even unto death.  But I've been thinking about my own death.  I just  can't escape the message I am hearing.  In everything I read, in songs on the radio, in the words of other people, the message is the same:  Think about your death now.  It will change the way you live.

First, wanting to know more about Tibetan Buddhism after last week (see "Searching After Knowledge), I picked up "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying," by Sogyal Rinpoche.  I read that Buddha's teachings emphasize the necessity of preparing and practicing for our own death. "If we refuse to accept death now, while we are still alive, we will pay dearly throughout our lives, at the moment of death, and thereafter.  ... For someone who has prepared and practiced, death comes not as a defeat but as a triumph, the crowning and most glorious moment of life." (pg. 15)  I found this idea of preparing for one's death difficult to understand.  

Then I read in the daily lectionary,  Man, his days are like those of grass; he blooms like a flower of the field; a wind passes by and it is no more, its own place no longer knows it. (Ps. 103:1, 15-16) In other words, life is fleeting.

Then, I remembered that I hadn't yet finished Dr. Allan Hamilton's "The Scalpel and the Soul."  I wanted to do that before I got too far into the Tibetan book.  I only had a few pages left.  Dr. Hamilton's last chapter is a list of things he has learned in over 30 years experience as a neurosurgeon.  They are his "Twenty Rules to Live By."  His Rule #4 is "Live your life with death in it."  He writes, "We are fools when we let ourselves believe there's more time -- a future lying ahead of us where we'll make changes, right a wrong, or correct our transgressions." (pg. 220) 

Now that I understood.  For I recognized myself in that last sentence.  I am a terrible procrastinator.  If I have a deadline (no pun intended), I get done what needs to be done.  But without a deadline, things get put off, and put off again, sometimes indefinitely.

Those words spoke directly to me.  For I had recently decided to put off a project that I have been trying to complete for over a year.  In December 2010, I had felt God telling me to write a book about my experiences along this "journey faith."   This call was compelling, insistent.  I quit my job at the University last year in large part so that I would have more time to devote to this project.  But each time I tried to write it, I got bogged down in doubts and fears.  So instead of writing it, I avoided writing it.  I got busy filling up my time with anything but writing that book.  But it was always in the back of my mind.  Last week, I said to myself, "When my kids are grown, I'll have more time.  Then I will write my book."

Dr. Hamilton's words struck a chord deep in my heart.  Did I think I would never die?  That I could decide when I would die?  Perhaps I won't even be around when my kids are grown.  I could die five years from now.  I could die tomorrow.

I once had a daydream about what would happen after I died.  I saw myself standing before God and him showing me my life in review on something like a big movie screen.  And then he showed me the life he had wanted me to have.  I saw that my life with God after death would be a Heaven of gratitude if I had put my trust in God.  Or, my life with God after death would be a Hell that I had created from my own stubbornness, fear, and laziness  --  a Hell of regret. 

What would I regret if I died tomorrow?  The answers came quickly.  I would regret not writing that book.  And I would regret not teaching my children more about God's love.

I am so grateful to have gotten the message finally.  I am amazed at God's steadfast love for me. I feel as if I have been given a reprieve.  I feel as if God has said to me, I don't want you to have an eternal life of regrets.  I want you to have the life you are meant to have.  A life filled with my spirit.  

Julian of Norwich believed that "we can choose to ignore, or ridicule and deny, God's love, but we cannot stop him loving us.  Whether we like it or not, we are his beloved children." ("I Thirst", by Stephen Cottrell, pg. 118)

So I have begun writing my story.  This time feels different.  This time I feel absolutely inspired. 

Dear God, words cannot express my feelings for you, but  this song  comes close.  Love always, Pam

(The song highlighted above is "Lovesong," sung by Adele, lyrics originally by The Cure.  I apologize for the advertisement at the beginning.)

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