My family came here as foreigners. Maybe yours did, too. First there was a brave Grisham, filled with hope. He risked everything to come to a strange land. He wrote back saying this was a good country, asking relatives to come help build his farm and establish our family. They thrived.
One of the reasons I can believe in a God who loves me with unqualified affection is because of my grandfather Grisham. Ganddad loved me so completely that it felt like absolute love. He helped plant in me a capacity to love and be loved.
In many ways Granddad was my model and hero. But toward the end, he didn't finish the last part of life well. All of his siblings in his large family lived well into old age, a rare and remarkable thing in that generation. I think Granddad believed he was invincible as long as all of his siblings were alive. When his brother Joe died from a fall at age 88, I think it was the first time Granddad let himself think he would die. It seems he just didn't give himself enough time to prepare. Those few final years were hard ones. He never accepted his road into death.
This week is Holy Week, when Christians re-live and remember the last days of Jesus' life and his road into death. We see Jesus' life as the love of God breaking into humanity in a new way, the way of love. His life shows us that love is stronger than fear or force; love is stronger than death.
Jesus taught his followers to lay down their lives; to face pain and suffering with love. The greatest is the least, the servant, the slave, he said. Dying to self is the path to rising into life.
Trying to learn from Jesus and from Granddad, I have been preparing for my own death. I practice a form of contemplative prayer. In this prayer, I start with a loving, inward glance toward infinite love. I let go of my thoughts and feelings, surrendering to God's presence and activity within. Whenever I am distracted, I use a simple word to recall my intent to surrender in consent.
Sometimes I spend the whole hour just trying to let go of the noise of my mental chatter. Other times I find that I fall asleep.
Often I find it helps to imagine myself in that last part of life -- bed-ridden, unable to move or act or talk. Alone. Alone with God. Dying. Letting go of every attachment to life. Trusting the darkness and silence.
Every once in a while though, something different happens. It seems that my sense of self disappears. There is no sense of my body. Whatever "I" am simply sinks away into a dazzling, infinite darkness. There is no experience of self; there is no experience of time. All is one. Infinite. Whole. The only reason I know "I" have disappeared for a while is the experience of returning again to a sense of self-consciousness. What returns with that self is a very deep sense of peace. Peace seems to vibrate in everything. Words fail to describe the experience.
I've never spent much energy wondering about life after death. Christianity for me has always been about how to live here and now. But the prayer-experience of sinking into the All leaves me comfortable. If my life is like a wave that returns to the ocean, I trust God for that passage.
I do hope to prepare for my death by practicing crossing that boundary now, traveling on a bridge of trust and love.
Lately I've been thinking about boundaries and bridges; thinking about trust and love, as I wonder about the current drama at our nation's boundaries. Those suffering refugee families are leaving the danger of their homes, risking everything with brave hope to travel to a new land. They remind me of my ancestors.
Will we choose to crucify them or to love them? We haven't done a good job preparing a bridge for them. Our immigration system is broken.
But we know how to face pain and suffering with love. We can be a servant people. We can love our neighbor as ourselves. And every Holy Week, Jesus teaches us once again that love is stronger than death.
Commentary on 04/16/2019
Print Headline: Stronger than death