I loved my life; it was going really well. My marriage was great; our children were happy & doing well. I even wondered if it was going too well to last, a kind of superstitious thought...or maybe it was an intuition. Anyway, I had difficulty with the hair-shirt, sacrificial, self-flagellating kind of theology. I had seen enough of hell on earth to know what I was trying to avoid; I didn't want to give up the good that had been given to me, for some mysterious purpose that I didn't even understand.
Then, in October of 2006, all hell broke loose in our lives, in the form of a life-threatening tumor in our daughter's body, and I began to "die before I die."
I "died" in many ways; for example:
*my old life as semi-rural, semi-privileged homemaker ended
*much of my innocence ended, including any illusion of being "in control" of my life
*I moved out of my house, and into shared housing and/or hospital rooms
*I moved to a "country" (hospital) whose language, mores and rules I did not know, performing functions that were foreign & painful to me
*my privacy ended
*my quiet, private morning prayer routine ended
*I left my hobbies, church community, Bible Study, work in Stephen Ministry & as a Deacon
*my children left their schools, and I left my volunteer work for their schools
*I left my friends, many family members, pets, social life, free time
*my exercise routine ended
*I accompanied my daughter & family into a kind of hell on earth
*my intellect stopped functioning as it had done
*when we learned that Katie was going to die, many of my hopes died
*when she passed away, a part of me died, too.
A new life began, even before we understood that the old one had ended. We tried to hang onto the old life, as best we could. Some of its elements survived, and sustained us, such as our closeness as a foursome. But some of its elements had to be dismantled and allowed to lie unused, as if a well-run machine had been taken apart by a mechanic and its parts dropped, left to lie where they fell. We had to let them go; we had no way of carrying anything but the most essential elements with us, and no way of knowing if we would ever get them back again.
When disaster strikes, you have only who and what you are to work with. If you have faith in a higher power, you have that power with you.
You begin to find out who and what you really are. You don't find it by self-examination or thinking; you find it by doing what you have to do, as best you can do it. I don't know why the world works this way, but it does. And now, I think that perhaps this is what is meant by "dying before you die." It's not something you do to become worthy, or to make God love you more. It's an attitude of the heart, a willingness to let "what isn't me" go, so that I can function well for the need of the moment, and respond with the best that I am given, right now. There is a freedom in this kind of spareness and poverty, but it's not in "worthiness" or self-flagellation; it's travelling light, flexibility, openness. I daresay I would not have ever volunteered to live this way, in my old life; I liked my life too much to step out like this. But necessity - Katie's need - brought it out, and her need led the way into this new life. Here is what The Center for Action and Contemplation's email for yesterday had to say:
"Jesus didn’t move from Jesus to the Christ without death and resurrection. And we don’t move from our independent, historical body to the Christ consciousness without dying to our false self.
"We, like Jesus himself, have to let go of who we think we are, and who we think we need to be. 'Dying at 30, largely a failure?' We have to let go of the ego names by which we have named ourselves and become the naked self before the naked God. That will always feel like dying. We need to know, experientially, that 'I am who I am who I am', and THAT naked, undecorated self is already and forever the beloved child of God. Then we can begin to share in the universal Christ consciousness."
I love that phrase: "the ego names by which we have named ourselves..." That is what is dying. Those weren't bad names; they just aren't who I am, who we are. But it can be painful to let go of the self that I think I am.
And from CAC today: "When we finally allow life to take us through the Paschal Mystery of passion, death, and resurrection, we will be transformed. At this stage we’ll have found the capacity to hold the pain, to enter into solidarity with it, not to fear it or hate it or project it onto other people.
"Actually, it’s really God holding the pain in us, because the little self can’t do it. But the Big Self, God in us, can absorb it, can forgive it, can resolve it. We know it’s grace when we no longer need to hate or punish others, even in our mind. We know someone else is working through us, in us, in spite of us, and for us.
"Our life is not our own henceforward. Now we draw from the Christ mystery, the Christ nature, the Christ source. Oh, we’ll regress; but when we’ve experienced our true self, who we are in Christ, we’ll know what’s really real."
both from Richard Rohr, Adapted from The Cosmic Christ
Some days that pain is nearly overwhelming; on other days, it's barely there. I think it's all part of being human, of living here, and surviving what comes our way. Perhaps this sounds like a mind-game, some mystical mish-mash that means nothing; if you go through a death-experience, you may see it differently. If you do have to "die before you die," I pray that you will receive hope from these words.
In the spirit of God in us, and re-birth, here is a beautiful prayer, set to music.
A Prayer Of Saint Patrick - Cambridge Singers
Thank you for this link, Jennifer!