Expire

Now, breathe out…

 

“His body is letting him down.”

We say this about a person who is getting old or becoming sick with an incurable disease.  Why?  Isn’t the end of life death?  Are we not all born to die?  We know that death is inevitable – so why do we treat it like it’s not?  Why do we act like our bodies are supposed to remain young and healthy forever – and then, when they begin to age or weaken through illness, why do we act as though we have been betrayed?  Betrayed by whom?

Nobody is promised endless youth and health.  Nobody is promised a life that won’t end with physical death.  Nobody.

It’s like we’re all delusional, in a way.  Some say that religious people suffer from wishful thinking – but, it seems to me that almost everyone in mainstream culture is suffering from that.  In my experience, religious people know that suffering happens.  Death is coming.  Catholics are certainly reminded of this quite often, invited every day to contemplate the suffering and death of Christ, uniting our sufferings with his, gazing upon the crucifix.  And every year, when the Lenten season begins, we (and other Christians) have ashes put on our foreheads and are told “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Suffering happens.  Death will come.  Not even God Incarnate lived a human life without it.  Continue reading

Remember

“Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

ashes

photo credit: MTSOfan at Flickr

This flesh, this body of mine, is mortal. It cannot last. Nobody can. Everything living on earth will die someday. Must die.

And, yes, it’s sad.

Our earthly lives are temporary. All the good things that we know… the taste of ice cream, the smell of roses, the sound of music, the feel of sunlight, warm on the skin… the sight of a loved one’s face… the embrace of our parents, the smiles of friends, the laughter of children… all are temporary. All taking shape and form from out of the dust – and all returning to the dust, inevitably.

It is mournful, sorrowful, but… it’s life. The ebb and flow of the tides, the spinning of the planet, the spinning of the years of our lives so quickly, relentlessly. We want to hold on, hold still, keep life as it is, no aging, no dying. But we can’t. We must truly live.

Flowers, and mosses, and trees do not seem to bemoan the shortness of life. They do not become sad or sullen, remorseful or angry with the dropping of petals or browning of green. Cats do not brood over skulls and worms are not anxious about their impending demise. Grumpy though felines may look at times and wriggling as worms can be, flora and fauna do not think about how often they think about death. They do not distract themselves from the very concept of mortality or make elaborate plans in a futile attempt to stave off fatality.

We do that. Humans do that.

We think and we feel and we think about our feelings. We seem to either obsess too much about death or else make ourselves forget about it entirely. Of course, we can never forget about it entirely because death is always there: the bouquet of flowers on the table, the rotting lettuce in the refrigerator, the funeral procession on the highway, the phone call with the shocking news…

Every life ends in death.

And yet…

Beyond Death – True Life

Not natural only are we, like the other creatures of earth, but also supernatural, transcending the limits of the material, of time and of space. Here and now, we live in the wonder and beauty of our natural home, but we must remember that this home is temporary, finite. All forms and shapes return to the stardust from which they came and our souls, which are spiritual, return to the source from which they came. We came from a state of eternal love and to that eternal state we are called to return. The animating principle of our lives, our souls, are of God.[1]

Truthfully, we are always with God and God with us – we are always in God’s love. But, we separate ourselves from this truth when we sin, when we choose to be other than what God created us to be. When we choose not to be God-centered, living in and tending to the goodness of God’s Creation in love, but rather, self-centered, using God’s gifts for our own finite pleasures at the exclusion of others, we sin. We do not truly live when we choose greed over generosity, pride over humility, resentment over forgiveness, for then we do not choose love, we do not choose God. We choose the fleeting selfish feelings of the flesh, the finite and not the infinite. These are our sins. If we truly love, then we repent. If we truly love, then we are most truly sorrowful and mournful for our sins, the daily deaths of love.

And we will remember…

“You are dust and unto dust you shall return”…

Why did millions of people across the world mark their heads with ashes last Wednesday with these words spoken over them, spoken right to them? Why will they, and I, now strive to spend 40 days in penance and sacrifice? Why… except to remember….

We must remember that we are dust so that we do not forget what brought us to life. What sent that spark of life to live in a tiny cell that would multiply and grow, forming and shaping our bodies, our human lives here on earth? What gave us, not only brains, but also minds, to not only think, but to also think about thinking? What created the sun and the moon, the mosses and the butterflies, the cats and the fish and the beauty of earth? Who gave us these and the gifts of music and familial love? Who gives us human hearts so that we may love and be loved eternally?

Our bodies are sacred and made to choose good, to choose God. But, from the beginning, we have gone against the sanctity of our bodies and not chosen God – this is Original Sin and it means that we live in the separation of our own making. With the reminder in ashes imposed upon us, we are recalling the Fall of humankind, the great divorce that brought with it this inherited consequence: “In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, since out of it you were taken; for dust you are and unto dust you shall return”[2].

Is this our end, then, the dust of the ground? No. Because God truly loves us, He does not want us forever separated from Him. God wills to save us and sends us a Redeemer – His Son, God-Incarnate, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”[3]

Christ will save us from the ashes. But, first, we must remember the ashes. We must remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return – but for the Salvation of God.

© 2016 Christina Chase


[1] Genesis 2:7

[2] Gen 3:17-19

[3] John 3:16

Lent: Getting over Yourself and Finding Yourself

 

Fasting and abstinence, ashes on the forehead, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa… And so Lent begins.  It may look like Catholics are a bunch of sorrowful, gloomy, down-on-ourselves people – but we’re not.  We’re realistic.  “Remember, Man, you are but dust, and to dust you will return.”  We know who we are – at least, we should.  But, if we get stuck only on our tendency to hurt ourselves and others (our tendency to sin) and our aching desire to do better and be better without hope, or love, or faith, then we will stay down in the dust of our material existence.  And that is not the whole of who we are.  And, so, I share here a past post of mine that helped me to get over myself – and to find myself.  Because, really, I’m not anything special – but I am cosmically treasured.  

Lent: Getting over Yourself and Finding Yourself.

Getting Real

It’s time for the ultimate reality check: ”Remember, Man, you are but dust, and to dust you will return.”  The priest tells me this as he marks my forehead with ashes smeared into the shape of a cross.  Thus, Ash Wednesday begins Lent, 40 days of penitence, but, also, perhaps most importantly, of preparing to be restored to the full depth and breadth of reality.  To begin Lent in ashes is to put my life into perspective.  For what is this body that takes up so much of my time, that I fuss and worry over – what is it but dust?  The little pleasures that might be given up for Lent – chocolate, coffee, computer games, daydreaming, etc. – are really only things that will one day become ashes themselves.  I get possessive about things and cling to them as my own, even though they do not constitute who I am.  I must remember that I am dust – dust animated by a soul… God created me, formed this body for me out of the earth, and gave me a spiritual soul to bring me into human being, so that I might fully live in His Creation.  The truth is that I did not create myself; I am not my own source and I am not my own ultimate end.  In truth – reality check – nothing that I have is my own, not even my existence, my life.

We human beings are dependent, as are all creatures.  We are, from the beginning, dependent upon the Will that created us and we are continually dependent upon sustenance: from the air that we breathe, which is not our own, to the lungs with which we breathe, which were given to us.  We are beggars living upon the largess of God’s Creation – with no hope of repayment.  For, we cannot give to God anything that God has not first given to us.  This is what has been referred to as our “empty-handedness”.  And though we may often not care that we are dependent upon a generous God and, instead, revel and indulge in the abundance, greedily hoarding up goods to live self-centeredly, we cannot escape the truth forever.  There will always come a moment in our lives when we wake up to reality and our eyes are opened to the truth.  A rude awakening it will seem to some, perhaps, but a necessary one for the sake of truth.  For, we humans are not only dependent – we are also transcendent beings.  Within us is the relentless desire and longing for truth, for the source of our beings, and for connection and relationship to this infinite and divine Source – for love.  It is in our nature to give and to love selflessly.  It is in our nature precisely because we are created in God’s own image and likeness.

All that God wants (and that is a huge and profound statement: “all that God wants”) is for us to truly and fully live.  We do that by being dependent – by knowing and accepting that we are dependent in true humility.  And we do that by being transcendent, by longing for God and loving selflessly in our empty-handedness.  In the great gift of life, God has given us something truly amazing: freewill.  Perhaps, we could say that this is what is truly ours – our wills.  When I choose to acknowledge the Source of my life, to humbly live upon the divine largess in true recognition and gratitude, and to hold back nothing for my own selfish intentions, then I am close to the Kingdom – I am close to True Justice, Right Order, the Fullness of Reality.  As a humble beggar with my begging bowl upturned, I give to God the only thing that God has given to me irrevocably: my will.  This is the soul of my existence, the soul of my being, the soul of truth.  Everything else is but dust, ashes, and to dust it shall return.  The only perfect offering that I can give to the Creator and Master of the Universe is myself.  My will, given freely, becomes God’s will and in this I am fulfilled, my deepest longing is satisfied, and so the greatest joy is known, perfected in eternity.

With ashes on my forehead, I remember that every living thing, all of Creation, belongs to God.  We belong to God, irrevocably.  Surrendering our will to this truth is the one and only way to receive the fullness of life.  If we seek to only serve ourselves, in self-centered will, then we serve only ashes.  It is precisely because our hands are empty that we are able to experience true love – God doesn’t love us for anything that we have.  The lowest pauper is as beloved as the highest prince, but only the beggar with empty, upturned bowl, who wills only what God wills, is rich in eternity. As St. Paul told the Philippians and tells us now:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

Christina Chase