Preparing to Die in 5 Easy Steps

Last week, I wrote about my reasons for wanting to prepare for death in a way that honors life, because death is an essential part of life as we know it.  This week, I present my personal preparation in five easy steps.  (I’m being a bit facetious with the word “easy”, needless to say.)

Things to Do before Dying

1.) Be Reconciled.

To some, this may mean a paying off of debts.  But, to whom do we owe more than to the One who has given us everything?  All that I have and all that I am is impossible without God.  My very life is a divine gift.  Have I been grateful?  Having been created in love, have I been as loving as I was created to be?  Do I take the time to be mindful of God’s presence, and of God’s presents, seeing how I deserve nothing and, yet, how God mercifully forgives and blesses?

Continue reading

Prepare to Die

Wrote this while two people in my life are actively dying, Mr. John Meehan, a friend and mentor, and my cousin’s husband, Larry Winger.  May God grant them peace…

Well, I’m feeling better – yes!  The pneumonia and bronchitis that could have killed my crippled, crumpled little body didn’t, new medication stopped my seemingly endless menstrual flow (and another new medication is on the horizon to, hopefully, shrink the huge uterine fibroids) and the usual treatment was able to put a mild Crohn’s disease flareup at ease.  Phew.  There is always the knowledge that I could catch another chest cold at any time, but I’m trying not to live in worry anymore.

And, of course, I still can’t walk, move my arms, hold my head upright, take care of myself, or breathe without rocking my body, but, for me, that’s just everyday, like the small stuff.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Christina Chase, crippled, hand, SMA

Because of all this, I feel a little more deeply into the season of Lent, which began with the reminder “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”  Lent, as I have written before, isn’t about doom and gloom but, rather, about preparing to live eternally – yet, this is also a what makes Lent a really good time of year to prepare to die.  Having recently experienced the fragile mortality of my body in an up close and personal way, I have been thinking about death more – and differently.  Preparing to live eternally and preparing to die are, in reality, the same thing.

Are You Prepared to Die?

Death is part of life and, so, it should be lived.  In our mainstream culture, we often think that it’s morbid, unhealthy, and just plain wrong to think about dying while we are living.  Many people don’t even want to talk about death at all.  It’s as though we think that, if we don’t think about it or talk about it, then it won’t come.

Ha.  It’s coming, like it or not. Continue reading

Who God Loves More

Because of my physical disability and suffering, some have strongly suggested to me that God loves me more than other people.

Yeah, I don’t think so.

I’m a sinner just like you.

And even though there was a time when I rolled my eyes at anyone who said “God loves you”, this post is precisely about God’s love – for me, for you, for everybody. It is a re-presentation of the gift that was given to me (through inspiration) a couple of years ago during Lent. I had wondered for years how God could love everyone and, yet, not everyone would be saved. Did Christianity actually teach that there were some people that God loved more than others? Short answer: no. Long answer… well, read on…

Why God Loves Anyone At All

We may think that God loves us because we have professed belief in His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ and/or because we do good things that are kind to others. But, that’s not why God loves us. God doesn’t love me because I smile despite being physically disabled and in a wheelchair. God doesn’t love you because you praise His Holy Name from a pulpit or in a blog. God doesn’t love them because they are poor and simple or them because they are successful and generous. Nope.

God loves each and every human being because God loves each and every human being. God loves because that’s what God does, because that is exactly who God is.

We have done nothing, and can do nothing, to deserve or merit God’s love – because God has already done it for us. We are lovable precisely because God independently chooses to bring us into being through His Own Creative Love. God loved us enough to take on our humanity and die for us through Christ our Lord. It is for this reason that no human being is worthless. For this sacred reason – and for this sacred reason alone – every human being is valuable, is precious.

We should never think of ourselves as any greater than this. And we should never think of ourselves as any less than this, not even when we sin.

Loved by God Is Who We Are

You know that person who really hurt you and doesn’t even seem to realize how badly, even though you tried to explain it to her? God loves that person intimately and infinitely. You know that person who is always so arrogant and says such cruel things about other people? God loves that person intimately and infinitely. God takes no joy in their sins – God takes no joy in our sins – but He eternally loves sinners. That means that God eternally loves us, each and every human being no matter what we do – no matter how badly we screw up His Commandments or how well we keep them.

Why, then, do we believe that some people go straight to heaven and others do not? What makes the difference of whether or not we will be holy lies in how we answer one question. It is a question we must each ask of ourselves:

Will I allow God to love me?

Maybe you thought that I was going to write that the question is whether or not we will choose to love God. I thought about it. But, then I wordlessly remembered in my heart (or the wordless memory was pushed forward for me) that we love because God first loved us[1]. The only reason that we can love anyone or anything at all is because God loves us. So, even if I want to love God, I must first let God love me.

Letting God Love

What does that mean?

It means that I have to acknowledge and accept who I am – who I truly, honestly, and eternally am: made with and for Love, loved intimately and infinitely by God. Then I can let God forgive me, heal me of my wounds, comfort me in my sufferings, and guide me in my decisions – knowing that God will always lead me to the best place.

Letting God love means that I must acknowledge and accept that every human being is also intimately and infinitely loved by God. And I must ask myself if I love others as God loves them. Do I treat my fellow human beings as sacred and beloved? Do I open up my heart and allow God to love my fellow human beings through me, through my words and actions?

Love cannot be bottled up and kept to myself or it will becomes stagnant. Love must flow.

Countless times I have allowed my annoyances, fears, anger, habits, and self-centered desires to lead me to say “No” to God’s Love. In so doing, I turned away from my own identity. I put up a barrier. I refused to give myself to the flow of love… to forgive, to heal, to strengthen, to comfort, to honor. I miss the mark, I sin.

That is why life can be ultimately dissatisfying. That is why, during the 40 days of the Lenten season, we, who acknowledge our unlove, are mournfully repentant, longing for forgiveness and newness of life. Forgiveness and Newness of Life are precisely what God wants to give to us through His Love – precisely what Christ brings to us through his Passion and Resurrection.

God wants us to be restored to our true selves. The Holy Days of Lent and Easter are a gift from God to help us remember, anew, that we are all divinely loved.

So, let us each ask ourselves:

Will I let God love?

I am only human, and, as such, I can only do so much. But, God can do everything. Will I let Him? Because the thing is… God loves me enough never to force me.

© 2016 Christina Chase


[1] 1 John 4:19

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

The God of Silence

What does God’s love feel like? Is it warm and fuzzy? In opening our hearts to let God love us, do we experience pleasant sensations, like an encouraging embrace?

I don’t think so.

We are creatures of flesh and what we understand most easily are physical sensations. If something feels good, then we are inclined to do it. If something is painful, then we tend to avoid it. Although the knowledge/experience of divine love is so deeply wonderful that we desire it always once we know/experience it, getting to that place, coming to that state of being where we are peacefully joyful in God’s love… well, that isn’t always a pleasant journey. In fact, I would venture to say that opening ourselves up to let God love us is hardly ever a pleasant journey.

But, oh, what a destination.

God’s invitation to receive the endless bounty of His love is an invitation to walk through fire. Like in the song, Holy Darkness, God declares to us:

“I have tried you in fires of affliction; I have taught your soul to grieve.
In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant my seed.
I have taught you the price of compassion; you have stood before the grave.
Though my love can seem like a raging storm, this is the love that saves.”[1]

This is the love that saves us from failing as human beings. This is the love that heals the soul, brightens the mind, satisfies the heart, leads the will to eternal destiny, and emboldens loving action. But, it cannot be known through the surface things of the world. We cannot see God’s love with our eyes, hear it with our ears, smell it, taste it, or touch it with our skins. We don’t physically sense Divine love, but we can know/experience what it does. God’s love, agape, transforms burdens into blessings, difficulties into opportunities, disappointments into fulfillment, sorrows into joys, and death into life. If only we would let God love us…

It is this “letting” that is the most trying and painful part of salvation. How are we to receive God’s love? Christ’s human arms are opened widest to Divine Love when they are stretched apart and nailed to the Cross. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he tells us.

Those moments in our lives when we are suffering in the world, when we feel that God has abandoned us – those are the times that we are being crucified with Christ.

Will we fight these moments of suffering and receive nothing from them, nothing but frustration, anger, agony, and misery? Or will we accept these moments on the Cross, even lovingly embrace them, and receive from them the endless goodness, courage, healing, and peaceful joy of God’s love?

“In your deepest hour of darkness I will give you wealth untold. When the silence stills your spirit, will my riches fill your soul.”[2]

When we suffer, with “Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight”, we are on the brink of glory. There will be no fanfare, no fireworks, no parades, no exciting revelry when we are opened and receive God’s love – just as there were none on the first Easter. The glory will be beyond what we can think, what we can imagine, and what we can experience through our physical senses. God loving us does not feel warm and fuzzy, but, rather, deeply abiding, never ending, pure, and truly and fully good.

It isn’t all happy, happy, roses and sunshine all of the time. For, every glorious rose has a thorn and every sun that rises must also set. Let us not fear the dark nights of the soul. Rather, may we remember that, although everything else will fall away, God’s love is eternal. Let us allow Him to embrace us in the Holy Darkness.

In the season of Lent, when we more profoundly examine ourselves and our relationship with God, I will be taking this song and the truth that it expresses as my faith facilitator for this First Friday of March.

Prayer:

Oh, Sacred Heart of Jesus,

you bear the burden of my sorrows

and take my pain as your own;

Break open my heart with yours

so that it will not be merely aching,

but rather flooded by your grace,

with the sacred strength of weakness.

Then, may I,

broken and battered in this world,

in the stillness and silence of the night,

receive the gift of your everlasting love,

lifted up in your everlasting life.

Amen.

© 2015 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. For more, click here.]


[1] Holy Darkness, © 1988, 1993, Daniel L Schutte. Published by OCP Publications, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213

[2] ibid.

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