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When we look critically at the many thoughts and feelings that fill our minds and hearts, we may come to the horrifying discovery that we often choose death instead of life, curse instead of blessing. Jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, greed, lust, vindictiveness, revenge, hatred … they all float in that large reservoir of our inner life. Often we take them for granted and allow them to be there and do their destructive work.
But God asks us to choose life and to choose blessing. This choice requires an immense inner discipline. It requires a great attentiveness to the death-forces within us and a great commitment to let the forces of life come to dominate our thoughts and feelings. We cannot always do this alone; often we need a caring guide or a loving community to support us. But it is important that we both make the inner effort and seek the support we need from others to help us choose life.
God says, “I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
“Choose life.” That’s God’s call for us, and there is not a moment in which we do not have to make that choice. Life and death are always before us. In our imaginations, our thoughts, our words, our gestures, our actions … even in our nonactions. This choice for life starts in a deep interior place. Underneath very life-affirming behaviour I can still harbour death-thoughts and death-feelings. The most important question is not “Do I kill?” but “Do I carry a blessing in my heart or a curse?” The bullet that kills is only the final instrument of the hatred that began being nurtured in the heart long before the gun was picked up.
You pray best when the mirror of our soul is empty of every image except the Image of the Invisible Father. This image is the Wisdom of the Father, the Word of the Father, … the glory of the Father.
Only pure love can empty the soul perfectly of the images of created things and elevate you above desire.
Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux). p. 113-114.
Contemplative Pause: Throughout this week, pause, take a breath, and listen with your heart. As you pray, intend that you are infused with love. What do you experience?
As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life.
Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship.
When we think about death, we often think about what will happen to us after we have died. But it is more important to think about what will happen to those we leave behind. The way we die has a deep and lasting effect on those who stay alive. It will be easier for our family and friends to remember us with joy and peace if we have said a grateful good-bye than if we die with bitter and disillusioned hearts.
The greatest gift we can offer our families and friends is the gift of gratitude. Gratitude sets them free to continue their lives without bitterness or self-recrimination.
Death often happens suddenly. A car accident, a plane crash, a fatal fight, a war, a flood, and so on. When we feel healthy and full of energy, we do not think much about our deaths. Still, death might come very unexpectedly.
How can we be prepared to die? By not having any unfinished relational business. The question is: Have I forgiven those who have hurt me and asked forgiveness from those I have hurt? When I feel at peace with all the people I live with, my death might cause great grief, but it will not cause guilt or anger.
When we are ready to die at any moment, we also are ready to live at any moment.
When we lose a dear friend, someone we have loved deeply, we are left with a grief that can paralyse us emotionally for a long time. People we love become part of us. Our thinking, feeling and acting are codetermined by them: Our fathers, our mothers, our husbands, our wives, our lovers, our children, our friends … they are all living in our hearts. When they die a part of us has to die too. That is what grief is about: It is that slow and painful departure of someone who has become an intimate part of us. When Christmas, the new year, a birthday or anniversary comes, we feel deeply the absence of our beloved companion. We sometimes have to live at least a whole year before our hearts have fully said good-bye and the pain of our grief recedes. But as we let go of them they become part of our “members” and as we “re-member” them, they become our guides on our spiritual journey.
Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.
I have a poem, “How Art Begets Art,” in The Montucky Review. Thanks to editor A. g. Synclair.
I have a new poem in Red Poppy Review, thanks to editor, Sandy Benitez.