How can rituals around death and endings help reveal our true identity? This month’s We Conspire series looks at ways to see vulnerability as a sacrament that leads to deeper belonging. Chaplain and spiritual director Valerie Dodge-Reyna opens up about the revelations she’s experienced through her work in hospice care:
“One of the challenging and unique honors as a hospice chaplain is to facilitate space where a soul can become unfurled. Death is a master at helping us untether from the shallow lands of our own lives. There is nothing more humiliating than relying on others to care for our basic needs. The gift of such a forced vulnerability can take us back to the womb where we knew how to lean into every original goodness that divine mystery had to offer. Back when we started life, to be fully human meant experiencing it through the desire to be loved, held, and seen.But life is a terrible beauty.
We learn from a world that all too easily dismembers us from our sense of belonging, in exchange for a life of be-laboring. We begin to see ourselves as effort-bearers and we lose our way from being the image-bearers that we are. Over time we bury our longing to live our lives in full bloom. Religion, self-help experts, and the newest formulation of mangosteen juice, tease out superficial levels of our desire. No wonder we humans fly away from, fight against, or freeze our God-given hunger.”
“We learn from a world that all too easily dismembers us from our sense of belonging, in exchange for a life of be-laboring.” —Valerie Dodge-Reyna
People dying in the loving care of a hospice team are different because they often feel safe enough to be vulnerable. They experience the many ways that death loves to reveal life under their buried and unquenched desires. It is painful to watch and yet it is one of the most stunning opportunities for the alchemy of a soul to unfold hope for the future, peace for the present, and grace for the past.
If we quench our thirst with water, we will eventually need more water. If we see our thirst not as something to be quenched but an invitation to be lived into, we taste new wine.
When my patients find the heart of their desire, it is like God speaks for God’s self through the precious soul who dares to desire the things for which God also desires. It doesn’t matter what it is. It matters that the desire is truly felt, faced, and held. This way of being can feel like the end of ones’self and that is when death becomes a companion toward life.
“If we quench our thirst with water, we will eventually need more water. If we see our thirst not as something to be quenched but an invitation to be lived into, we taste new wine.” —Valerie Dodge-Reyna
In the telling of Jesus and a blind man, Jesus met his request to be healed with a beautiful question: What do you want? I mean, wasn’t it obvious coming from a blind man? Yet, asking the question had a way of deepening the blind man’s desire beyond his physical eyesight into the secret depth of himself, where his belonging and belovedess were held through the lens of his deepest desires.
I wonder if our desire and God are two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps being in touch with our deepest desires is what it means to have faith. Jesus affirms this point when he said to the blind man, “Your faith [felt desire] has made you well.”
Here is the rub. We don’t have to wait to be on the hospice bed to discover the depth of who we are. We don’t need to genuflect or light a candle near a meditation cushion to find our desires. We only need to find it in the ways that life leads us to let go of our striving; through the many mini deaths that life deals us. Big death and little deaths always lead us to desire. Desire allows the soul to come out of hiding. The courage of being vulnerable to our desires makes our souls porous enough to explore new frontiers. Maybe the life that awaits you is only asking you one question — What is it that you want?
Reflect with Us
Which endings have you experience and how did they resurrect your desire to live the life you are meant to live? Share your reflection with us.
We Conspire is a series from the Center for Action and Contemplation featuring wisdom and stories from the growing Christian contemplative movement. Sign up for the monthly email series and receive a free invitation to practice each month.