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Healing and Death

October 24, 2018

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The fact that life and death are “not two” is extremely difficult to grasp, not because it is so complex, but because it is so simple. —Ken Wilber

We miss the unity of life and death at the very point where our ordinary mind begins to think about it. —Kathleen Dowling Singh

To accept death is to accept God. —Thomas Keating

Two years ago a friend of mine was hospitalized with a life threatening condition. I visited him almost daily until he finally passed away. Some of his immediate family tried to the very end to save his life. A faith healer was invited to pray for him, rituals were held and he was encouraged to follow a special diet instead of recommended medical procedures.

As his conditions worsened, he was told that he needed to repent of unconfessed sins and be baptized again. Apparently, the faith healer considered it a necessary set of conditions for God to do a miracle. My friend complied, baptism included, and then passed away.

I couldn’t contrast the family’s wishes, but it was painful to see the unnecessary burden placed upon him, at a time when he just needed unconditional support. Of course, not everyone in his family shared the same views; there were differences, but because everyone did whatever they did out of the most sincere love for him, any judgment is completely unwarranted. Even so, I still wished there would have been less tension in his final days.

I then wished to also make sense of a recurring pattern, as seen in three other cases, one before and two after this particular one. They were each different from the other, but in each I was told or directly encountered this same type of tension.

Now, I am not speaking of the natural apprehension faced in such life and death situation, in the midst of pain and discomfort; what I am speaking about is of the tension generated by some religious convictions and expectations.

Usually, it is the belief that by meeting certain conditions, following certain spiritual practices, adhering to a particular diet and in some cases even disregarding medical advice, God will then somehow do the healing.

Mind you, in two of the cases, this preoccupation did not come from the afflicted person themselves, but from well meaning relatives and acquaintances. Whatever the source, it is often a cause of tensions between doctors, patients and relative. Of course, there is always plenty of politeness and empathy surrounding such things, but the tension is there nonetheless.

In one case, however, it was mostly a matter of inner, personal tension, where the afflicted person was so earnestly seeking to line up for a miracle, that I sensed the inner struggle. I wished to help, to offer him another perspective and somehow ease the tension, but the risk of being misunderstood was too great.

You see, when someone tries very hard to create the conditions by which God can do a miracle, he also ends up equally preoccupied with avoiding the conditions that can prevent God from doing it. Everything and everyone becomes a question of “for or against it”, and that’s the tenseness, what makes it even difficult for others to help.

In a way it is a form of control that we try to exert towards God and our circumstances, but it is mostly in our heads; and the problem is that when we are in such a state, we are practically unable to hear anything different. Even if we did, we would likely oppose it.

In essence we are trying to muster up faith, while confusing it with our thoughts and beliefs. We do not see that faith leads beyond beliefs and certainty, even to feeling forsaken on a cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

But I know this doesn’t make sense, never has, never will and there is no use explaining it. Yet if there is one thing that does make sense of it, it is death. This is why I wished for this person to begin experiencing the letting go of faith, before finally being forced to.

But it is hard to let go while clinging to our beliefs, thinking that they are the key that will turn God in our favor and bring about the miracle. We do not dare to, or we might loose it all, but trying to have faith will not work, because it leans on a mistaken perception of God’s nature.

It reminds me of the elderly clergyman who’s noted for saying The older I get, the more deeply I believe but the less beliefs I have. He too, lost his wife to cancer and recounts how, when she was at the hospital and near death, he considered calling for the prayers of all the people that knew him.

Being a well known bishop, writer and speaker, he knew that thousands of people all over the world would immediately respond, but then a strange thought came to him. What if, because of so many praying, God would be moved to heal his wife, but another woman in the same condition, yet unable to call on so many to pray, would be left to die? What would that say about the God in question?

He realize that this was not the God he knew, yet it is something that not many of us stop to consider. We believe so many things about God but seldom take those consideration to their logical conclusion or question their assumptions.

Having said this, I must add that I have also heard of people that have been miraculously healed. It isn’t the norm, but it happens. Most people, however, gradually accept death as the natural course of life.

In any case, when so much is invested in trying to bring about a miracle and then it doesn’t happen, I have seen it cause hurt feelings, blaming each other, making excuses for God or ourselves, as well as leaving many questions unanswered.

What I have come to recognize, is that the dynamics of healing and of God’s role in life and death, aren’t exactly as we imagined from our religious upbringing. There is much that we don’t know and what we presumed to know is rife with misunderstandings. This is what I wished to make sense of and clear up a bit, then I found someone who’s already covered what I wanted to add, so here it is: [comments in square brackets are mine]

The Simplicity of Death
By Rick Hocker – http://www.rickhocker.com.

To understand death, we can observe nature as in the lifespan of insects or the hierarchy of the food chain. Death is an integral part of the cycle of life. Death is necessary, inevitable, and unavoidable. I doubt that insects or animals contemplate their mortality as humans do. Yet, what we have in common with all creation is our need to survive. The survival instinct is driven by an innate need for continuity, but for some humans it’s confused with one’s fear of death. We humans have turned death into a terrifying phantom that sneaks in the shadows and steals our precious lives as a thief.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished came upon a dead mole that disturbed him because it didn’t behave like all the other animals he had encountered thus far. He found the mole stiff, cold, and unresponsive. When he asked, “Where did the mole’s life go?” the Teachers explained that its life left its body and rejoined the One Life in which all living things share, the One Life that is Creator. God is the source and embodiment of Life, and all living things manifest God’s Life. When a living thing dies, its life returns to God.

The Balance of Life

In college, I used to pray atop a hill behind the dorms. Each time I ascended the hill, I passed a small pond full of many dozens of polliwogs. I would always stop and watch them wriggle along the edges of the pond as if eager to climb onto the land. Over time, they grew large and began to sprout limbs. One day, when I visited the pond, the water had dried up and all the polliwogs had died. This event devastated me because I had grown attached to those little guys. For years, it bothered me because I could never understand what lesson could be gained by observing this catastrophe.

Looking back at that event now, I take heart because of the laws of physics. Energy is being transformed all the time. Matter converts into energy according to Einstein’s famous equation. We now know that energy and matter are interchangeable. Everything transforms. Nothing is wasted. The life energy of those polliwogs wasn’t extinguished, but released to the universe. Death is not a destructive end, but a transformation of energy from one state to another.

I see Life as a dynamic constant, where creatures come and go, but the totality of Life is a vast fabric that God infuses with His Life. All creatures are alive with the spark of God’s Life, and the spark returns to God when they die. In this sense, death is but the shedding of the body. Life continues. Spirit continues. Even for us, death means that we shed our bodies and continue in a new form. Think of it as shedding a skin like a reptile or crustacean sheds its skin or shell as it grows.

Gods View of Death

I believe that God views death from a wider perspective that isn’t tied to a material point of view, given that God Himself is Spirit and not tethered to a body. Most people are confounded when they read passages in the Bible about God slaughtering people. From God’s point of view, He is simply terminating bodies, not souls. I don’t mean to make light of murder (it is one of the ten commandments), but God takes a more casual and neutral view of death when taking lives, as they are His to take [I do not personally believe that it was God who ordered or carried out the slaughters in the Old Testament. More likely those were narratives chosen, on hindsight, for political and religious purposes]. We’re comfortable telling children the story of Noah’s ark, even though the tale includes the worldwide intentional slaughter of the entire human race save one family [same as above]. Bodies serve as temporary housings for our souls, nothing more. We regard our human lives as only the short time we inhabit our bodies, when our existence actually extends far beyond that. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” says James 4:14. Psalm 90:4 says, “In God’s sight a thousand years is but a day.” Whether we live a day or ninety years, our human lives are a momentary flash from God’s point of view.

We consider it tragic when people die “before their time.” Who decides what my time should be? It may be much shorter than yours. I think everyone’s time is too short. God, on the other hand, doesn’t hold a tragic view of death. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones (saints).” Those mentioned are God’s favorites, I assume, but their death is deemed precious to God, not tragic. Contrast this with the feelings we have when those dear to us die. We consider it extra grievous if the deceased was a good or godly person, somehow less deserving of death, as if death is based on merit.

Why We Fear Death

Death is natural and not to be feared. The reason we fear it is because our ego is unwilling to suffer loss. Ego clings to security and substance. Ego refuses to let go. Death is the enemy of ego. The best way to address our fear of death is to stop clinging to life so tightly, to release our grip, to let go of control. In its place, we choose to trust in God, to trust in Life and Death. Death is not genuine loss, but only the shedding of our temporary bodies. I find comfort in this, seeing the shedding of my body as liberating and freeing me to experience God without the distraction of my body.

One thing that terrifies us about death is the loss of ego and identity. In this world, we are known by our outward personality and accomplishments. Those personal attributes cease to define our non-material being after death. The quality and nature of our souls is what remains. Ego and self are baggage meant to be discarded along the path toward fulfillment in God. The supremacy of self runs counter to the spiritual life and to the nature of God. Ego, as self-focused, opposes the open, outward essence of God who desires Oneness with all. After death, ego and identity have no place or function. They only thrive where separateness causes one to define a distinct self in relation to and in opposition to all others. For those who experience Oneness with God, separateness ceases to be a marked reality, and our need for ego and identity fades because God’s embrace supplies the security that ego tried to provide and our new identity of being one with God replaces our old fragile identity of “I alone.” On our journey toward death, our ego must “die” in order to find fulfillment in our relationship with God.

The Issue of Decay

Before death comes decay. Here in the United States, with our emphasis on youthfulness and newness, decay and deterioration repulse us. I admit I join the crowd on this issue. I don’t look forward to the slow loss of physical and mental capacity or the frightful challenges that tend to strike older people. Yet, deterioration is a natural consequence as we transition toward death, and it ought to be accepted. Through all of life’s circumstances, we learn to adjust and adapt so that by our latter years, we have gained resilience and calm acceptance of what is. If I have learned these things, I can then apply them to the upcoming challenges of aging. I will adjust and adapt to the deterioration happening to my body with humor and patience and compassion. If we haven’t yet learned to release our stubborn egos, then these final humiliations will give us ample opportunity. When we accept our limitations instead of resisting them, we are best prepared for change as it comes. We trust in God, believing He will guide us through all the stages of life and will give us what we need along the way.

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