Mortality

The last 12 months, commencing with the season of Lent a year ago, has brought me face to face with mortality—mine for sure as I feel my own body saying you can’t do what you used to do, but more generally—the very real limits of life all around me.

  • My father died a year ago. He felt like a legend to me and I was sure he would continue to a ripe, old, three digit age. But he didn’t…
  • My mother died about 6 weeks later. She was one who displayed a mastery of literature and the English language as a school librarian but her dementia the last few years made it hard to consistently remember the names of her five children…
  • Palestinians died in Gaza during the March of Return protests last Spring while we lived in Bethlehem for 3 months. We went to the Gazan border to protest with Jewish peace activists but were keenly aware of the blood being shed just a few hundred yards away as Gazans were being shot for wanting freedom. Last week more rockets were fired from Gaza, followed by a destructive bombing raid in response by the Israeli military…
  • Last week, another expression of Islamophobia showed its ugly head as 50 Muslims never stood up again after kneeing to touch their heads to the ground as they prayed in a Mosque. I visit mosques a lot for my work and know that moment when a room full of Muslims is totally silent in reverence and submission to God’s will. When I think about this incident, I start to cry…

I mention some of these things not to make a political statement, or to disturb our own solitude and inward contemplative practices during Lent but rather to ground our reflections, and I dare say our Christian discipleship, in the realities of our lives here on earth. Death is real, whether by natural causes, tragedy, or illness. Our faith must deal with this truth. Following Christ or being a Christian must be an embodied experience, and we of all religions follow a Jesus who, as God, stepped into history, and took the form of a servant. As Koyama reminds us, a theology that is NOT rooted in the aspirations and frustrations of local people is an a-historical, docetic theology, and as such not concerned about or rooted in history.[1] Thankfully, Lent helps us focus on the real, historical and bodily manifestation of God being with us.

Contemplative practices run the danger sometimes of extracting us from the real. If we don’t situate our contemplative life here and now, in the real, in the exigencies of life and the world we live in our practices are merely ethereal, otherworldly, made for ghosts but not real people. Lent helps us not do this and should ground us here, today, at this point in history, with our own mortality, personal loss and worldly tragedies. The promise and hope of the Resurrection are real and we wait for it. But Friday comes first. And God is in both.

[1] P. 34, Kosuke Koyama, No Handle on the Cross. Orbis Books, 1977.

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1 Comment

  1. Lord, let me be fully present with embodied others in their grief and joy even as I commune with you in my spirit.

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