Things are dying.
As hard as we try to cover our grief with seasonal gaiety, a few moments pondering the multicolored shroud lying on the forest floor is enough to bring us back to reality. Things are dying.
The death of the growing season, glorious as it is, serves to remind us of the truth etched deep in our psyches: nothing is permanent in this world and there’s not a thing we can do about it!
This past weekend my parish celebrated the anointing of the sick at our Sunday Masses. I was reminded, yet again, of why I love the church. Despite the well documented failures of some of our leaders, our church continues to offer a unique gift to believers, as it has for 2000 plus years. Inexpressible truth is expressed here, if we listen with our hearts and imaginations.
The few extra moments our congregation spent at church last Sunday, praying with those courageous souls willing to admit their need for healing, presented us with a powerful opportunity – a reality check of sorts. As the growing season draws to a close, so does the liturgical year. We are reminded through readings, song and environment that things are dying. No one gets out of this alive. But there is still hope!
I am dying, but the eternal God – who made me, loves me and holds me in existence – continues to offer hope and strength throughout my journey. I will encounter suffering and finally death. But, like the leaves whose death provides nourishment for the future life of the tree and the forest, my death, my many deaths, also lead to new life.
Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark finds Jesus in a particularly interesting situation.The apostles James and John had a proposition for him. It seems clear from several scripture stories that these two brothers must have been standouts in the group. Jesus even had a pet name for them, “The Sons of Thunder.” I don’t know whether that speaks of them as explosive, loud or stormy, or maybe it actually does refer back to their father, Zebedee. For some reason Jesus liked them enough to bring them along, with Peter, on several significant occasions when the others were left behind. The two brothers must have been feeling pretty confident when they tried to extract a promise from Jesus – that they would retain their special places in Jesus’ kingdom.
From the day we are born we want to be special to someone. Or should I say someone special. I mean SPECIAL. I mean the favorite. I wonder how many times our prayers, in essence, are a “proposition” to God, a demand to be God’s favorite?
Can you see Jesus as his friends bring him their request? I, for one, would have been a little irritated. Maybe he was, too. But his answer to them comes from his heart of compassion. He gently lets them know that they are on the same road as he – the road through suffering to death to new life. Filling their need to be the favorite is not his place.
Filling my need to be special – to be the favorite – is not God’s place. But in God’s infinite love I am learning to live the truth of who I really am – a sparrow, a field flower, one hair on someone’s head – or maybe one leaf on a magnificent golden maple!
If I stop to listen, I can hear the trees singing their lives out for love of the One who made them. Sometimes I can even hear my own voice, and it’s part of that song. I can die to my “special” self and embrace my unique life as a contributor to God’s dream for creation.
Seeing this truth is the beginning of wisdom. A death of sorts? Yes. But glorious? Oh yes!