All Things New

Death and Resurrection: Week 1

All Things New
Sunday, November 18, 2018

Behold, I make all things new. —Revelation 21:5

As I’ve recently faced my own mortality through cancer once again, I’ve been comforted by others who have experienced loss and aging with fearless grace. Over the next few days I’ll share some of their thoughts. Today, join me in reflecting on this passage from Quaker teacher and author Parker Palmer’s new book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old.

I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about the fall and its sensuous delights.

Then I began to understand a simple fact: all the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as earth prepares for yet another uprising of green.

Today, as I weather the late autumn of my own life, I find nature a trustworthy guide. It’s easy to fixate on everything that goes to the ground as time goes by: the disintegration of a relationship, the disappearance of good work well done, the diminishment of a sense of purpose and meaning. But as I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the hardest of times.

Looking back, I see how the job I lost pushed me to find work that was mine to do, how the “Road Closed” sign turned me toward terrain that I’m glad I traveled, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to find new sources of meaning. In each of these experiences, it felt as though something was dying, and so it was. Yet deep down, amid all the falling, the seeds of new life were always being silently and lavishly sown. . . .

Perhaps death possesses a grace that we who fear dying, who find it ugly and even obscene, cannot see. How shall we understand nature’s testimony that dying itself—as devastating as we know it can be—contains the hope of a certain beauty?

The closest I’ve ever come to answering that question begins with these words from Thomas Merton, . . . “There is in all visible things . . . a hidden wholeness.” [1]

In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight. Diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites: they are held together in the paradox of the “hidden wholeness.” In a paradox, opposites do not negate each other—they cohabit and cocreate in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. Deeper still, they need each other for health, just as our well-being depends on breathing in and breathing out. . . .

When I give myself over to organic reality—to the endless interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising—the life I am given is as real and colorful, fruitful and whole as this graced and graceful world and the seasonal cycles that make it so. Though I still grieve as beauty goes to ground, autumn reminds me to celebrate the primal power that is forever making all things new in me, in us, and in the natural world.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, “Hagia Sophia,” in A Thomas Merton Reader, ed. Thomas P. McDonnell (Doubleday: 1989), 506.

Parker Palmer, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.: 2018), 165-167, 168.

Image credit: Autumn Leaves (detail), Koan, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the hardest of times. —Parker Palmer

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