Friday, September 26, 2014

when everything's made to be broken

Be sure of this, that you must lead a dying life; and the more you die to yourself here, the more you will begin to live to God.
--Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Currently, I am reading Karl Rahner's On the Theology of Death, which is awkward reading to bring with you on the subway car, I have discovered. Not because I feel awkward actually reading it (I feel much less awkward burying my nose happily in a book than I do unwillingly overhearing the boys-who-smell-like-weed sitting next to me engaging very loud conversation about their debaucherous weekend plans), but because when I glance up at the faces of the passengers staring at me, they have a slightly horrified look on their face. Their faces have a sort of blanched look, and their eyes glaze over with a look of morose contemplation as they read the letters d-e-a-t-h written in serene white serif font against the cheerful red background of the book's cover. I have just reminded them of something they would rather forget: the inevitability of their own mortality. This is not something we usually like to be reminded of, particularly not in subway cars. Hurtling underneath a city at fifty miles per hour is hardly a pleasant time to remember that all of us, as humans, must eventually end our earthly pilgrimage. These thoughts are usually easier to stomach in a cathedral with stained glass, lots of candles, and a soothing aura of peace that conjures up images of eternity, making us think it might not be all that bad.

One of C.S. Lewis's arguments for human's supernatural souls is the nearly universal human discomfort with death. We find it unnatural and fearful, C.S. Lewis argues, because it is something so foreign to who we are. We are creatures naturally made of union: union of body and soul, union of heart and mind, and death is a severing, a severing of our body and soul. We fear death. We loathe death and all reminders of death.  Death, as one of my dear friends so eloquently and succinctly put it recently, sucks. We fear this severance of ourselves that we know is inescapably racing towards us at 60 seconds per minute. 

Karl Rahner, however, suggests that death--although still a mystery, an awe-filled mystery covered in "darkness and deadly silence"--is perhaps something deeper than a severance of body and soul. While there is still this passive undertaking of death, there is an active component to our dying.
Death is still an inevitable work of nature. We cannot escape death, we know that we have to passively submit to it. But death, he offers to his readers, is also the culmination of the work of our lives, which we offer up in a final fiat to God.
For our object in living is to become crushed each day, to allow ourselves to be broken down again and again. Each sunrise brings with it our daily opportunities to tear down our egos, and to let the broken pieces of our false selves fertilize the soil in which the seeds of new life can take root.
This daily dying that we attempt is our efforts to join in the dying to death that Christ accomplished. For, as Rahner says: 
"The real miracle of Christ's death resides precisely in this: death, which in itself can only be experienced as the advent of emptiness, as the impasse of sin, as the darkness of eternal life, could be suffered by Christ Himself, and now, through being embraced by the obedient "yes" of the Son, [...]is transformed into something completely different--into the advent of God in the midst of that empty loneliness."
 Christ's death--Christ's descent into the deepest, darkest part of reality--has transformed what death is. For now, even in the emptiness, even in that severance of self that death portends, we will find God Himself there. The Cross has truly swallowed up death, it has won complete and final victory for Life. Our dying is now transformed into our final act of giving our lives to God as gift. Our death, Rahner proposes, is the completion and consummation of our lives. Each day, as we arise, we attempt to die to ourselves, and so prepare ourselves to die.
Because, we find that if we die each day with Christ, we will also rise with Him. 
On the other side of our daily death is life--life in abundance. 

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