Death is not found just six-feet-under
So the word for the day is, simply, death.
It’s a Lenten thing in part, you see, but I like to talk about death anyway because I worry that (within the Christian community at least), we tend to talk about death only at funerals, during Lent, on Good Friday, and maybe a passing triumphal reference on Easter.
The word comes from the Old English deað, which relied on something linguists call the Proto-Germanic Source (a possible language which served as an ancestor to both English and German). In Proto-German, the word dauthaz merged dau, meaning ‘die,’ and thuz meaning, interestingly, ‘act, process, or condition.’
Yesterday I was having a conversation with a person who found out with great relief that s/he didn’t have a fatal tumor, but rather a much more garden-variety, bothersome ailment. “So I’m not dying!” said this person. “Well,” not particularly comfortingly I suppose, “you are, but probably not as quickly as you had thought!”
Just like the etymology teaches us, we are all and always in the act, process, or condition of dying.
We just don’t like to actively think about it.
One of my goals is to help people employ the concepts and language of faith in a regular way. It’s a habit of integration, I suppose, or the “relevance” part of OMG’s “relevance, reverence, and renewal.”
Let’s do death.
So death comes in all sorts of different forms. Just yesterday (it was a busy day yesterday!) I told the story to someone about how during an adult education class some time ago, I had the participants brainstorm for all the ways that death appears in our lives. I started them off by giving the example of the death of a relationship and the death of a job loss.
They caught on quickly.
Divorce, addiction, low self-esteem, children not living up to expectations, care-giving for parents, anxiety and stress, feelings of being overwhelmed, fear of failure, financial worries, tragedies, constant exhaustion; it was a regular deluge of death.
And then one bright elderly woman who had recently moved to an independent living facility said, “The death of boredom.”
I said, not at all pastorally and completely shaped by my own harried life, “Oh! I would so love to die that death!”
I think that were we to to be more conscious of death, to see its presence more readily than just when somebody is buried (or will be soon), we would appreciate the power (need?) of daily hope and communal support much more deeply.
Death also makes itself present in the shape of fear and threat. We shape many of our key decisions thanks to death, like “But what if…?” “I’m too scared.” “It might not work.” “I’d probably lose.”
On any given day, we cede amazing amounts of power to death in all its forms.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to shape our lives on the basis of hope and possibility instead of on death?
So to return to the etymology, we are, indeed, constantly in the process of becoming dead.
But do we want to be defined by that?
What else could define us, and on what basis? Could we also say that we are constantly becoming alive more powerfully than becoming dead? If so, how and by what?
What do you think?