Reality Initiating Us: Part One
Lesson Five: You Are Going To Die
Friday, April 3, 2020
The surprise of surprises is that although everybody who has ever lived in this world has died, for some reason, we think we won’t. —Hindu aphorism
Jesus did not once tell us to worship him; he only told us to follow him on the necessary three-day journey that Christians celebrate during Holy Week. And “three days” did not necessarily mean Friday to Sunday. It is a classic initiatory phrase for going the distance or the full cycle. The transformational journey of death and resurrection is the only—and always denied—message. It really is the way we are saved.
However, death, in any form, is perceived as the great human enemy. We construct much of our lives to avoid it, delay it, and deny it. It seems that we are not ready to die, until we have truly lived. Ironically, people who touch upon real life are the ones who can also let go of it. It is the people who have not yet begun to live who fear death the most. True insight has not happened to them yet, which leaves them without a center, foundation, or even primal desire. Their core has not been touched and so they have nothing to harken back to or look forward to or anything to trust deeply within. They are afraid. And we must be honest that this is much of humanity.
In initiation rites, some ritual of death and resurrection was the centerpiece. This is probably why Jesus sought out and submitted to the death and rebirth ritual of John the Baptist at the Jordan River. It is probably why he kept talking to his disciples, three times in Mark’s Gospel, about the necessity of this death journey, and why three times they changed the subject (8:31–10:45). It is undoubtedly why he finally stopped talking about it, and just did it, not ritually but for real.
The genius of ancestors who practiced initiation ceremonies is that they exposed and revealed the truth about pain in a sacred space, which makes all the difference in the world. Now pain is no longer a scary unknown, an unfortunate mistake, something we must change, but maybe an entranceway! As Eckhart Tolle says, “You do not need to be a Christian to understand the deep universal truth that is contained in symbolic form in the image of the cross.”  Before such transformative images, the worst things can become the best things.
The initiation instinct realized that facing one’s death was the ultimate encounter with the sacred. Walking through one’s fear of the last thing becomes an encounter with the first thing. A person is then free to live, often for the first time outside of their head or their fear. Death encounters seem to be the primary way to build or rebuild a real life. Then life itself, in all its depth and beauty, becomes the unquestionable gift.
 Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks (New World Library: 2003), 127.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 92, 94, 100, 102–103.
Image credit: Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2.You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.