Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dying to live

We've all heard it, and said it: I'm dying to do that, or I'm dying to see that, or I'm dying to get that -- all ways of saying "I'd be willing to give up a lot for this opportunity."

But at the same time there is a passiveness to this phrase; a sense that despite the longing and the intent it's unlikely the desired event will actually come to pass. Because the fact is that most of us tend to be unwilling to give up what is for what might be. And yet we have models for this all around us: the plants that die off every fall, giving away their fruit and seeds in hope of an unknown future; the salmon, swimming desperately upstream at the close of life to give birth to the new; all the plants and animals we kill off daily to keep ourselves alive.

It's not surprising, I suppose: we all know the phrase "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Common sense tells us to hold on to what we have rather than risking it for something we might not get. Which is why the last line in the Prayer of St. Francis -- "For it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life" -- is both difficult to hear and full of hope.

It's difficult to hear because we don't, any of us, want to die; we don't, any of us, want to give up anything that is dear to us, and life, for many of us, is the most precious of all.

But it's full of hope, because the fact is that death and loss are inevitable, and St. Francis is letting us know that whatever we lose, we will gain something infinitely more dear. Which is good to know, because what we can't bring ourselves to let go of may, in the end, be taken from us.

I am thinking of this now in the context of Logion 60 in the Gospel of Thomas, which I read this morning. It's a rather disturbing parable, about eating and being eaten, but I think its point is this: We need to be willing to die a little bit in this life -- to take time away from all the things and people and thoughts that occupy our minds and hearts -- in order to bring awareness of the eternal into the now.

For some reason it feels to me like the difference between fast food and savoring a home-cooked meal. A home-cooked meal takes time: time to grow the food, time to prepare it, time to savor every bite, and to savor the conversation around the table. Imagine a single delicious bite in your mouth. Is it just something to give your body protein? Do you just wolf it down and keep going? How much better to eat as the Italians do, relishing the sights, sounds, scents and tastes of the food, nourishing your soul as well as your body!

The difference lies in the space we create around the act of eating. And I'm thinking that today's Gospel suggests we need to create space around the act of living as well; that if we take, from the time we spend actively thinking and getting and doing, moments to assess, evaluate, and savor the choices we've been making, we won't feel, as some of my stressed-out friends do, that we are being eaten alive by life.

When we take -- or, more accurately, when we MAKE -- time to meditate, or to sit, or to walk without a destination (or a cellphone plastered to an ear), we create a space in which to savor what is. And in so doing, in dying, however briefly, to the pressures of this life, we are given the opportunity to release the divine flavor of eternity which lies nestled like a seed in every moment.

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