From Death to Life
“Die before you die,” says the Sufi poet Rumi. Saint Ignatius of Loyola says this spiritual life is about dying to the things we need to die to in order to rise and live the fullness of Life God calls us to. Jesus says that if we follow him we must be willing to lose our life in order to find it. For Christians this season of Lent is about “renunciation.” People give something up for Lent. But unfortunately people usually give something up that they, deep down, really wanted to give up anyway. Like a bad habit. Giving up alcohol or caffeine to detox their body. Giving up sweets, so they can lose weight.
I always encourage people instead to detox spiritually. To give up an attitude that needs a major shift. To let go of judging others, for example. To give up being negative. To set aside that anger, resentment, grudge from long ago. My own Lenten discipline is to let go of “outcomes,” to pour my heart fully into all that I do, then let it go, and not even look to see if it bore any fruit.
In the early Christian church the forty days of Lent were a time of catechesis (instruction, teaching, training, education, preparation). A person who desired to be baptized, and therein to become Christian, would prepare for her baptism during Lent. Then, on Holy Saturday, the night before Easter, adult converts to Christianity would be baptized at an Easter Vigil. At the beginning of the Vigil, people gather outside the entrance to the church, and a new Christ candle is lit for the first time from a new fire. A prayer is said: “O Christ, on this Holy Night, as you Passed Over (from the Jewish Passover celebration) from death to Life, so may we this night pass over with you from death to new life.” The new candle is then carried into the church, and the people chant: “Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The light no darkness can overcome.” All the candles in the church are then lit from the Christ candle.
Then there is the sharing of the sacred story of God’s saving love for us, with passages taken from the first book of the bible, all the way through to the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Then there is the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Sometimes, since we are in Rhode Island, the Ocean State, we make a procession, and drive a couple of miles to a nearby beach, where we baptize adults in the ocean. When you plunge an adult beneath frigid waters, and they emerge from the depths gasping for breath, the act of baptism is truly reminiscent of “dying and rising” with Christ.
I love doing adult baptisms because adults usually are very conscious of wanting to die to their old way of life, in order to rise to a whole new way of life. This is what Saint Paul writes about in Romans 6: “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried, therefore, with Christ, into death SO THAT as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, WE TOO MIGHT WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE.” (Romans 6: 3-4, emphasis mine)
The prayer of confession during this season of Lent moves me every time I pray it: “O God, during this season of Lent, we pray that you would bring us out of slavery into freedom, out of the wilderness into the promised land, and out of death into life.”
What is it you need to die to? What is it that is keeping you from living in that fullness of life God desires for you? God is calling us to live a life that is so much bigger!
There is a famous Buddhist story of a salt doll, who longs for a bigger life. She approaches the Ocean. She steps in with one foot, and sees that in the Ocean, her foot has dissolved. But rather than see this “death” as loss, she continues walking, until she and the Ocean are One. The Sufi (Muslim mystic) Rumi says the same thing: “The body’s death now to me is like going to sleep. No fear of drowning. I’m in another water.” In the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, we read: “That one alone sees truly the Lord the same in every creature, who sees the deathless in the hearts of all who die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, who does not harm self or others, who thus attains the same goal.” Another Sufi, Bawa, says the same thing: “Everything you see tells the story of God. Look at it. God is out spread, filling the entire universe. So look. You exist in form. God is without form. You are the visible example, the sun. God is the light within the sun.”
Photos: The Road to Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Ted’s baptism at Second Beach, Newport, RI; Christ Candle at Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, NM; Ted’s baptism, Second Beach, Newport, RI; Ted Reborn! immediately after baptism, Newport, RI; top of Kitchen Mesa, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; view from the Reservoir, Newport, RI