Death: The Man In The Mirror
With the back of my soft, comfortable bed at a 45-degree angle, I listen to YouTube music regularly when I’m reading or writing. But I must confess that—probably more than I would like to admit—I find myself binging some new show I have discovered. I think somebody told me about “Grantchester” when it originally landed on PBS from ITV in Britain. I discovered it recently streaming on television. The series is propelled forward by the World War II veteran, cigarette smoking, Scotch drinking Vicar of a small historical church, in an English village, who becomes partners with a gruff, local detective (who actually has quite a big heart) in solving murders. In this bucolic village, there is a murder every episode. I’m not sure I would want to live there?!? (The actual village is said to have more Nobel Prize recipients than any other place—many due to the number of professors from Cambridge living there.) And, of course, the murder is solved each week.
What is not particularly highlighted, as the murder count adds up, is the issue of death. There is much discussed about who, how, when, and why. But the reality of death and grieving are left to the viewer, should they choose to reflect in that way. I imagine most do not.
Death is not an easy topic to drop into a dinner gathering with friends. It is not something you typically ask your grocery store clerk to discuss. It is even hard to discuss with our closest friends and family. It usually needs to be right there in front of our faces to become the topic of conversation.
When I look into the mirror I see—Jesus. No, I do not have delusions that I am God. What I see is the Spirit of Christ enveloping me in a cloud of grace. My failures, my intentional movements away from God, the ways I have hurt people, the opportunities I should have taken, the people I didn’t care for fully, and the much longer list of sins I could recall, are all covered by the intentional movement of God towards me. I still take responsibility for all of those actions. I have regrets. I’m still failing and growing. But when I look into the mirror the one I see is…Jesus.
I also look into the mirror and see my mortality, my death. I face it with peace. In the months just before I had to leave my job to go on disability, I had a meeting with my Spiritual Director, Bill. He had seen me go from balance issues to a cane, and then to double crutches. We spoke about where I was sensing God in the midst of my journey towards disability. Then we sat in silence. After some time, he spoke to me as only he could. He said, “You’re going to die.” I was dumbstruck. More silence before we began a conversation about death. My death. Bill was not telling me I was dying in a few months or even a few years, he was challenging me to face my own death. That conversation led me to affirm who I saw when looked into the mirror—Jesus. And that confirmed in me the otherworldly peace that I daily lean into with joy in my heart.
Throughout my years in professional ministry I’ve spoken with many people, a number with Christian faith, who look into the mirror and just see all of their failings, the things they have left undone and the things they had done that brought them shame. “How could God forgive THIS?” “Did I do enough with my life?” These are the common themes in those discussions. For some, God’s grace was a reassuring reality in our conversations. For others those struggles continued. I was called to journey with both kinds of folks. (For all people, my desire is to point to the work of the Spirit, the Sustainer of the soul, who is fully God, to experience the beauty and grace of knowing God’s love.)
Death is in the air this month. Saturday was the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and New York. In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Gordon Felt and former President George W. Bush both spoke so powerfully about the pain and loss but also a call for unity in our country moving forward—E Pluribus Unum: From many, One. Gordon went on in his speech to ask the question if we were acting as people worthy of the sacrifices of the many victims and survivors from that day.
Nationally speaking, are you living worthy of the sacrifices of that day? Or more specifically, are you sowing unity, responsibility towards each other and love? Or are you speaking about your individual rights, harsh accusations, and division. Themes echoed by both Gordon Felt and President Bush.
Theologically speaking, are you worthy? Sadly, the answer is “no.” We are all living in a groaning, broken world, living out our messy, damaged lives. But (and it’s a big but), JOYOUSLY, God offers all humanity God’s ever-present love and grace. When you recognize that you are loved by God, you are no longer living as a citizen of the world, you are living as a child of God; a child that continues to be transformed to live in a different way and see that each life is precious to God.
Quoting Bob Dylan, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” Looking into the mirror, facing death, I’m choosing to be busy being born each day.
Susan and I want to spend some time with you in our podcasts reflecting on facing death, both from our own perspectives and inviting guests to join us. We enjoy you joining us and are open to discussing any comments you may send.
Camino Update: I was supposed to be on a plane heading for Spain this week but Covid-19 continues to affect our trip. We are rescheduled to begin the wheelchair push on the last 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago on June 11, 2022. Please encourage everyone you know to get vaccinated and receive the booster when it is available; not just so we can do our Camino but because it means you are taking responsibility for the people around you.