Monday, May 9, 2016

Awakened to live

Life is full of little deaths that, as Christians, we are called to enter fully and, as best we can, fearlessly because we believe that death is the gateway to new life: resurrection life. So whether it’s the death of our habits, our expectations, or the death of our self-identifiers, our career, our relationships, or even the final death of our bodies, we who are followers of Jesus Christ know that new life awaits us on the other side.

In his resurrected state Jesus was hungry, cooked and ate with his friends, spoke with them, and allowed them to touch his wounds. He
was real and really there, yet he was also unrecognizable to those who knew and loved him best until his love unlocked the limits of their thinking. Simply speaking her name was enough to open Mary Magdalene to recognize her beloved Jesus. Letting go what made sense in that moment (she was at Jesus’ tomb to tend to his dead body), Mary surrendered to her love of Jesus and was transformed by it. Her transformation led to the transformation of the disciples which led to the birth of Christianity.

Every death we know in this life is like that, and Jesus is as real for us in these moments as he was for Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Promising to be with us always Jesus dwells in us. Uniting his spirit with ours, Jesus is our gateway into eternal resurrection. This is a huge truth which I have to reflect on often because of the limitedness of my humanity. It changes everything to recognize that my smallness is made vast, my weakness strong, by the presence of God in me for the purpose God has which is beyond me.

So it matters that we believe that Jesus was the Christ who came to reconcile humanity to God and that Jesus’ death and resurrection were real. When we choose to let go of what makes sense in our worldly experience and surrender to the love of Jesus that is present within us nothing is impossible, just as Jesus said. (Mt 17:20) Every mountain actually becomes moveable, every created thing becomes a thing of beauty and great value, and every death becomes a gateway to another resurrection.

Resurrection is not only something that happens after we die. It’s a way of being alive - awakened to the reality that the spirit of God in Christ lives/abides/dwells within us both as individuals and as the universal “us.” It is a state of unified being in which we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are one with God’s own heart. In this state of unified awakening, what our tradition calls resurrection life, our wills are aligned with God’s will, and that affects what we do. We act, not out of fear or obedience to laws or traditions, but in love – divine, creative love - which flows from us making everything it touches through us new, whole… holy. The church, the community of faith with all of its supportive traditions, is where this process is (or could be) discovered, nourished, and manifested.

The key to this unified state of being in awakening is surrender. It helps to remember, however, that surrender is not weakness or loss. There is no white flag to wave, no humiliation to face. The English word surrender is derived from the Old French: sur-“over, on top of” + rendere “give back, return.” (Source, Source) To surrender in faith is to choose to return ourselves to our Source. In doing that, we become so much more than ourselves - we become one with all that is, that was, and that will ever be. When that happens, the individualism of western Christianity, in which most of us were reared, fades into foolishness.

Yet, each time my life leads me to another death, as is happening now, I dread what’s coming and I go into the experience with trepidation. I don’t know why… I’ve been through these deaths enough to know that the new life it will open for me is totally worth the pain of dying for it. Still, it’s hard each and every time. I take solace in knowing Jesus struggled similarly in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest. “I am deeply grieved” he told his disciples. Then he asked God if it might be possible for the cup to pass from him. (Mt 26: 38-39, Mk 14:34-36)

Could it have gone another way? Nothing is impossible for God, but for us, the only way to resurrection life is through death. Dying involves a total detachment from expectation and outcome, and I always forget how empty the accompanying void of joy feels as the dying happens.

To me, it’s like the selective memory many of us mothers have about the intensity of labor in childbirth until, that is, we are in the midst of giving birth again. Then we have that moment where we wonder why we did this again. When the baby emerges we remember why. The new life is totally worth the pain involved in its birth, and the pain is soon forgotten, lost in the joy of the overwhelming love.

We really must die, over and over again, in order to truly live. This is what Jesus was saying to us in the story of the seed that must die in order to bear fruit (Jn 12:24) and when he cautioned us that whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will save it (Mt 10:39, Mk 8:35, Lk 17:33, Jn 12:25).

Dying, in the spiritual sense I’m describing here, is an absolute, unconditional giving over (surrender) of ourselves and all of our perceived control back to our Source. Our fabulously designed but limited minds fight against that again and again as if our survival were at risk. The truth is our survival, as individuals and as a people, is in the hands of God in Christ who showed us the way and calls us by name to follow him. Unlocking the limits of our thinking, Jesus transforms us and our world by his divine love. For our part, we respond to this truth by entering enter every moment of our lives fully and fearlessly, knowing that even when are called to die, we live eternally in Christ who lives eternally in us.