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Center for Action and Contemplation

Big Life Includes Small Deaths

Friday, September 9, 2016

Spirituality of Letting Go: Week 2

Big Life Includes Small Deaths
Friday, September 9, 2016

All the world can give us is small thinking, a small mind. But small mind, without the unitive experience of big mind, makes us feel unbearably alone. We feel lost, existentially guilty, and often fragile and powerless. A lot of guilt is not about this or that particular sin; it’s often a guilt about not having yet lived. We call that essential or primal guilt. It’s deeper than guilt for an offense we can name. It feels like shame, not about anything in particular, but about who we are and who we aren’t. Many of us suffer from this primal shame. It hides in the unconscious and is not easily available for healing. Grace has to search it out and turn it into patient goodness instead.

There is a certain fear of death that comes from not having lived yet. I had to face death myself through three different experiences with cancer. I don’t think I was terribly afraid of death each time, even though I knew it might be near, because I knew that I had already lived. Once you know that you have touched upon the Great Mystery itself, you are not so afraid of death. But there’s an existential terror about losing what you’ve never found. Something in us says, “I haven’t done ‘it’ yet.” I haven’t experienced the stream of life yet. I haven’t touched the real, the good, the true, and the beautiful—which is, of course, what we were created for.

When we know we have experienced the stream of life, we will be able to lie on our deathbed like Francis and say, “Welcome, sister death.” I’m not afraid to let go of life because I have life. I am life. I know life is somehow eternal—so broad and deep it can even contain death!—and another form of life is waiting for me. It is the last threshold, but I’ve been over this threshold before. I think this is what Paul means when he speaks of “reproducing the pattern of his death and knowing the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). It is an actual pattern that we must live through at least once—and then we understand something forever.

But if we’ve never lived, we will be terrified of death. We will have no assurance that this isn’t the end. As Catherine of Siena said, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven.” And I would add, it’s hell all the way to hell. So choose heaven now. The only people who are not in heaven are those who do not want to be there.

Gateway to Silence:
Surrender to love.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003), 164-165.

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