Death

A few weeks ago, Cáceres put up a memorial for those who passed away from corona. I personally know more than one person who will stand before it and mourn for their family members.

Death is never welcome. We want life and we want it to the full and it’s right to long for that.

During lockdown, for 48 days I leaned out of our window to clap for the medical personnel who were, as they say in Spanish, “at the foot of the canon” — fighting for life, watching suffering, and holding hands with death. I thought of the nurses I know and love and they are plenty, both in the States as well as Spain.

Forty eight times I clapped for them and more than that I prayed for them and checked in on them.

Then one day I saw the video of someone I know being wheeled victoriously out of the ICU while all the medical staff did their own clapping, celebrating that one victory over corona.

We celebrate life because we were made for it. We were made for fullness of joy and vibrant life and wholeness.

I’ve thought more about death — in general, of friends or family dying, of my own death — in the past five months than I have in a long time. I hope I’m not the only one.

This virus threatens to take our health and even our very breath; send us to the grave early, if you’ll pardon the frankness.

I was meant to inhabit this physical, 5’5″ body for a number of years. But, my days are counted. I have a birth date as well as a death date. I will grow old and get wrinkly skin.

If I don’t die of corona, I will die of something else. It takes a while for this to sink in and I don’t love to ponder it, but we must.

GB Caird says, “All men must die, and the question mark which death sets over their existence is just as great whether they die late or soon, alone or in company, violently or in their beds. Their ultimate destiny is not determined either by the moment or by the manner of their death… But by the opening of the heavenly books and by the true and just judgments which proceeds from the great white throne. The idea that life on earth is so infinitely precious that the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is [idolatry].”

Jesus is the one I want to walk me through the gates of death and represent me before that throne. We must have more to stand on in life than a probability that we will survive this crisis or the cheap encouragement that “everything will be okay.”

Everything in our lifetime on earth might not be “okay” and you or I or someone we love might not live another day.

Although that uncertainty is actually how life always is, this odd, unknown virus puts us face-to-face with our humanity, our fragility.

We feel deep in our bones that we were made for fullness of life, not death. We were made for a perfect, flourishing, rich garden. I take comfort in the fact that the God who created us for that full life swooped down in human flesh to taste human suffering, to die and turn death into merely a seed that brings life.

I find myself afraid of the process of dying, but not death itself.

We westerners have a limited perspective on the supernatural. In general, we have eyes to see our physical life and little else.

It’s worthwhile to admit that we know so little. What if death isn’t the end — what if it’s the beginning? What if this life is not the most precious thing but merely a shadow of real life?

I’m currently studying the book of Revelation. That, combined with reading CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy, has helped me begin to imagine what is happening in the kingdom we are often unaware of and with the King we dare to ignore. Let’s peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of what we can’t see with our earthly eyeballs.

There is a King on a throne who is wiser than I can imagine. When I’ve chosen the privilege of connecting with him, trusting Him, and joining His kingdom, fullness of life starts now and continues even after I change this body for a brand new one.

In Christ, the one who conquered death, death can not steal from me.

““The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus (John 10:10)

How do you think about death?

Stars and Space

One night at an observatory meant one impressive telescope, a sore neck from craning to look at the heavens, many words I didn’t understand, precious glimpses of the reality beyond view of the naked eye, and a lesson on our solar system that blew me away.

Did you know that there are stars that are a few hundred times the size of our sun? I didn’t. Forget twinkle, twinkle little star. More like burn, burn, gigantic ball of fire.

Take that fact about how big some of the stars are and remember that our sun is much larger than earth (where we feel dwarfed when we simply go to a big mountain) and your mind is ready to blow. We can’t conceive of the size of the known universe and certainly can’t imagine what exists that we don’t yet know about.

The theoretical lesson at the observatory ended and we marched outside to bend over the telescope. We sat in a circle around the machine, awaiting our turn to peek behind the curtain of the naked eye into the heavens.

Saturn’s rings are real — I saw them. The moon is riddled with craters. And, even under the telescope, there are groups of flaming stars that look like someone spilled salt.

Space has always scared me. The black, gravity-less unknown. It can feel like we are on a planet of life travelling through an abyss of scary nothingness.

But what do I know about it from looking up from little ol’ earth into the world of celestial bodies, gaseous planets, and ginormous stars that burn and soar?

We know nothing in the scheme of things and we don’t know what we don’t know. Maybe space is pulsing with life itself and we are living a shadow of it here on earth. What do we know?

This world is magical and glorious and if there is even more glory and fullness of life beyond what we see, what must it be like?

In C.S. Lewis’ novel “Out of the Silent Planet,” the main character finds himself hurtling from earth to another planet.

He comments on his fear of space: “Some moments of cold fear he had; but each time they were shorter and more quickly swallowed up in a sense of awe which made his personal fate seem wholly insignificant. He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite.”

He goes on to talk about the majesty of traveling through space:

“He wondered how he could ever have thought of planets, even of the Earth, as islands of life and reality floating in a deadly void. Now, with a certainty which never after deserted him, he saw the planets—the “earths” he called them in his thought—as mere holes or gaps in the living heaven—excluded and rejected wastes of heavy matter and murky air, formed not by addition to, but by subtraction from, the surrounding brightness. And yet, he thought, beyond the solar system the brightness ends. Is that the real void, the real death? Unless . . . he groped for the idea . . . unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminution of something else. Something that is to bright unchanging heaven as heaven is to the dark, heavy earths.”

Doesn’t this imagining of space stoke your imagination?

The reality we see on earth is not the only reality. There is much we cannot see and are incapable of knowing. And I think it’s good to let my mind run wild with the possibilities of the majesty and glory and beauty and brimming life that is beyond what we see with our eyes.

The insignificance I feel before a great mountain is nothing compared to my insignificance (and even fear) before the galaxies. Yet the Being that oversees the celestial bodies was stuffed into the skin of a man —dignifying humanity, coming near, closing the gap, and bringing life. Our existence on this small planet might be minuscule but it is not overlooked, unwanted, or unimportant.

Thursday thoughts

There are a lot of things that I know. But many of the things that I know I don’t really KNOW. I know that love is an action and a commitment, not always a feeling. Sometimes those kinds of things don’t really click though, so of course I started thinking about it.. 🙂

There are a lot of people in this world that I like. They’re easy to love. Sometimes people are easy to love. There are, of course, also a significant number of people in this world that I don’t particularly like. With some people there just seems to be little to nothing about them that moves me to like them, much less love them. It’s also simply the state of my depraved heart that keeps me from reaching out in love. Sometimes people are hard to love.

There’s a war going on inside when I don’t feel an emotion of love toward someone. I don’t feel loving toward them. But do my feelings dictate what I am to them at that time? If CS Lewis is correct in saying that, “‘Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained,” then it doesn’t much matter what I feel, does it? I can love someone no matter what. If Lewis is right, it’s possible that I can love someone really well even when my emotions tell me to pout and think only of myself.

In a way, am I sometimes most loving when I don’t feel like loving? Because then my action toward that person to love them is deliberate and not just an emotional overflow. Because at that moment my will to love them overcomes my emotion regarding them. I want to have a talk with my heart: “Listen here, emotions, I’m going to tell you what’s up!” Tenth Avenue North has this great lyric that says, “Oh my love, I will fight my heart to keep you safe here. All my life, I will stay.” Yep, my heart is selfish and sluggish, so fighting my heart is necessary in order to love others by a commitment to their good and safety.

This allows me to be loving toward people that culture would tell me I am not necessarily required to love. There are times that I think, “the last thing I want to do right now is act kindly and generously toward this person.” If I choose to act in love toward them in spite of that emotion, could it be just as good of a love as when it’s driven by positive emotions toward that person?

But I want to feel love toward people! Of course affectionate feelings and emotions are good and useful things and I do want them to be paired with that decisive choice to love someone. I want my emotions, in addition to my will, to be involved in loving someone, but at times it seems as though the emotions are a long time in coming around. Until they do, I’ll keep trying to decide to love. Tim Keller says, “Our culture says that feelings of love are the basis for actions of love. And of course that can be true. But it is truer to say that actions of love can lead consistently to feelings of love.”

CS Lewis speaks to this concept in the context of marriage:
“Ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense – love as distinct from ‘being in love’ – is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.”

“Quieter love.” How beautiful is that? Determined, selfless, quiet love. Lewis describes it well, but this concept applies to every interaction, not just marriage. Well yes, it’s beautiful, but not easy. It seems as though we glorify so many things in life that really are just hard as all get-out. Sometimes I think about hard things and think, “Yeah it’s hard but it’ll be beautiful and so noble and great.” Really though? Sometimes hard things are just hard, and that’s all. That kind of love is HARD. Yes it’s beautiful but oh so hard, and not always wonderful, glorious, and rewarding.

And then there is the divine act of love:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  -Romans 5:8

That’s how God showed love. A decisive act despite the rebellion and unloveliness of us. He came, moved toward, sacrificed. When I was still a sinner, Christ was fundamentally committed to me and would not give up. That is glorious and beautiful!

Thursday’s unsifted thoughts 🙂