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Lent, Day 2

posted Mar 2, 2017, 12:15 PM by John Garland   [ updated Mar 3, 2017, 4:34 AM ]

Ash Wednesday is sad.

“From dust you came, to dust you will return.” You will die.

By the end of the morning yesterday I felt really, really sad about saying that so many times. And to say that to a child? And smear a reminder of mortality and loss on the skin of youth?

Why do we do that? Why do we forgo the question of, “are you okay?” and the declaration of “I love you, and I’m so glad you’re going to be okay,” with, “you will die, don’t forget…”?

 

There is a Christian discipline that is very important to our spiritual formation that is described in various ways, but one is “moving from denying death, to befriending death.” 

 

Death is scary and sad, but you don’t need to be afraid. (This won’t make a best-seller, a great advertising campaign, or a popular app . . .) We are surrounded by messages and billboards that tell us how chemically (eat this), physically (exercise this), socially (say this), violently (buy this gun), and plastosurgically (lift this) we can avoid mortality.  

And Jesus says, “Come to me . . . find rest for your souls.”

 

Henri Nouwen wrote a parable to introduce this spiritual formation practice of befriending our mortal state. Here, first, in his own interpretation:

 

“This story about the twins in the womb helps us to think about death in a new way. Do we live as if this life is all we have, as if death is absurd and we had better not talk about it? Or do we choose to claim our divine childhood and trust that death is the painful but blessed passage that will bring us face-to-face with our God? When we are ready to die at any moment, we are also ready to live at any moment. For me, preparing for my own death involved befriending death, claiming my belovedness, becoming a child again, and trusting in the Communion of the Saints. . .”

 

“Twins in the Womb”

Twins are talking to each other in the womb.  The sister said to the brother, “I believe there is life after birth.”  Her brother protested vehemently, “No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us.” The little girl insisted, “There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move.” Still she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, “I have something else to say, and I’m afraid you won’t believe that, either, but I think there is a mother.” Her brother became furious. “A mother!” he shouted. “What are you talking about?” I have never seen a mother, and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more? This is not such a bad place, after all. We have all we need, so let’s be content.”

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother’s response and for a while didn’t dare say anything more. But she couldn’t let go of her thoughts, and since she only had her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, “Don’t you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They’re quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful.” “Yes,” he answered. “What’s special about that?” “Well”, the sister said, “I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face. Don’t you think that’s exciting?”  --Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift


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John Garland,
Mar 3, 2017, 4:30 AM
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