Dying Every Day

I’m kind of into Easter this year. And by Easter I mean the overdetermined cultural phenomenon that includes Pagan celebrations of spring rebirth as well as the Christian holy day honoring of Jesus’ resurrection, with some woo woo “it’s the season of renewal” thrown in too. (And maybe one or twelve Reese’s peanut butter eggs. Wait, where did they go?)

Maybe I’m extra turned on about Easter because I spent so much of 2016 so far being ridiculously sick, and now that I finally feel like I’m solidly BETTER, I am about as excited and energized as if I’d literally crawled out of the cold earthy grave, dragging crocuses behind me. It’s also renewal time at home: we’re redoing some rooms, and I’m getting my own bedroom/office/studio, something I’ve been longing for over the past several months. My outer space is being repurposed, or in a sense, reborn. Maybe it’s putting me in the right frame of mind to tune in to this seasonal energy. 

On a different level – a heart level, not a head level – I have felt drawn back to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

I’ve been attending Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality for just under a year – I started going soon after the big Easter service last year. Apparently it’s traditional for them to have the Queen City Jazz Band come and lead a jazz-gospel service. !!!!!! What an incredible treat that was! 

 

And as part of the service, some scriptures were read that I haven’t heard for yeeeeaaaaaarrrrrrrrrs. It has been a while since I heard these passages straight from the Gospels, rather than the paraphrased modern version of events. And my heart being already an open state, the words went in deep, like a long needle, sharp and healing at the same time. 
This being an inclusive, interfaith community with a mystical orientation, the story of Jesus’ last moments was told not as an example of what a perfect being is like, but as a teaching about how WE can be — more humble, more trusting, more forgiving, more welcoming — and closer to God. 

There were lots of things said that I will be taking away to mull further. The most striking for me, though, was the phrase said to be Jesus’ last words as a human-embodied person:

And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He gave up the spirit. 

Luke 23:46,  Modern English Version

The minister said something like, What would it be like to begin each day with this declaration of faith?

But I also wonder: What would it be like to say this in each moment?

A Sufi perspective might be that we die with each exhalation of the breath. Who we were, dies. What was, dies. And to the extent to which we are aware of each moment, to the degree to which we are present and alert, we can let go of anything that shaped or controlled us in the past, and we can become new. We can be, in each new moment, innocent, childlike, free. 

If you want to be reborn, you have to die.

Of course most of us don’t want or need to experience total ego death in every moment. But in each moment, we do have the opportunity to die and be reborn. And there are some moments when, believe me, I am so grateful for that opportunity. I tend to take it only in extreme situations. But I think I would be a lot lighter, a lot less encumbered by useless mental and physical baggage, if I died more often. 

In some ways I have so much trust in the will of the Divine. Any seeming tragedy or hardship that befalls me – a heartbreak, a loss, an illness, a financial setback, a dream that dissolves into impossibility – even in the midst of my tears, I find myself saying, But it is God’s will, and I am learning so much from this right now. This is truly taking my soul where it needs to go. I don’t know where this dark path is leading, but God does, and I trust God. 

The external stuff, I’m often cool with (sooner or later). Everyday internal business, though, is a different story  … What am I doing here? I’m wasting my life. I’m ignoring my calling. I don’t even know what my calling is. Will I be able to pay my bills in the future? What if I never write a book / see the world / have children / make enough money to retire? What if I get sick or disabled when I’m old? I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m sure it isn’t this. I’m going the entirely wrong way. I’m such a failure.

Into Thy hands, Father, I commit my spirit. 

When that verse was read, I thought of diving into unknown waters, leaping head first off a dock into a lake that might be freezing, that might have sharp rocks on the bottom, or be polluted with dangerous germs. This is something I regularly do. Though I can be very nervous, even scared, standing on the edge of that dock, the pull of the water on my spirit is so strong that I know I can’t do anything but dive in. To overcome my fear, or my resistance to leaving the “known” behind, I’ll often invoke a name of the Divine as I jump. 

Life can be like this. In so many moments every day, in big and small ways, I resist leaving the safety of what I know from the past. (The future, the moment that’s coming next, is scary. I could die. Or I could experience pain, and maybe I’ll WANT to die. Literally ANYTHING could be waiting to attack me in the moment that’s coming …) Instead of diving with a prayer on my breath into a stream of time that calls my soul inexorably onward, I hang on to the boards and have to be dragged off by the current while I distract myself from what’s happening. Because either way, it’s happening. But one way is exhausting, while the other is exhilarating.

Since Easter is all mixed up with multiple traditions anyway, I’m going to make an Easter resolution — or maybe call it a seed I’m planting in the wet, fertile soil: That I’ll remember this verse, this prayer, this mantra, that I’ll repeat it and try to remind myself of it whenever I’m afraid of the future. I’ll begin now. 

  

No/Yes

I have this super clear memory of sitting with my family in a pew near the front of the Catholic church in my grandma’s town, attending Christmas Eve mass. The church was so tiny and narrow that my mom, dad, brother and I filled a row.

The memory is of looking down at my hands, with which I’d recently started to feel the flow of energy, and thinking, “No. That’s crazy. You’re being arrogant. You don’t have anything to say about God or religion or the soul. And if you did, no one would want to hear it. So make like an organ and pipe down.”

Ok, I was a little liberal with the recreation of the inner monologue here. But the key word rang out so clearly in my head that its echoes are still quietly reverberating today. “No.”

The funny thing is, I DON’T remember what insight I’d thought I had, and had wanted to share, before that voice shut me down so tidily. What I remember is how the No had the weight of certainty on its side.

I also remember that it was dark outside the stained glass windows. And I remember how I used to feel, standing outside at night in the winter when it hadn’t yet snowed, standing on a hillside in the heart of a Pennsylvania town that was so small, the glow from porch and street lamps stayed in pools on the ground and the sky remained untinted with light pollution – truly black.

  
I could feel the soles of my feet connecting with the earth, right through my socks and shoes. My scalp tingled and my skin sparkled and I could almost see energy arcing between my palms when I held them apart.

I interpreted this within the cosmology I was making up for myself, a sort of pagan-inspired universalism. I called the period between the fall equinox and the end of the year “the Gathering Together of Power.” I imagined magic condensing out of the cooling air like fog appearing on a window. I pictured the earth drawing its energy back into itself, down from the grass stems and tree trunks it had animated through the last season. The nights felt crisp and full.

I felt solitary but connected.

Now it’s that season again — it’s the beginning of the time when static electricity zings through the air and composting leaves release their pungent mystic gases and the stars sharpen their points. And again I’m thinking of things I want to say, and again a malignant voice, a voice that is part of my own mind, whispers, Put it away. Close the drawer. You’ve got nothing to add here. Go do something else.

But this time there is another voice, one that’s been slowly awakening over the course of this year of exploring self love. And she doesn’t say no.

She says YES. Yes. Let it out. Say whatever you want. Nobody has to care. This spring arising needs to flow.  This time say yes. Say yes. Say yes.  

Shrine to the Blessed Mother down the hill in my mom’s backyard