Archives For Death

Lazarus, Come Forth

randomlychad  —  September 21, 2016 — Leave a comment
deesisPanel2_lazarus from Flickr via Wylio

© 2012 Tim, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Today, I woke with thoughts of Lazarus in my head. To my knowledge, I myself have never been, you know, dead. The neurons are still firing up in my head. At least I’d like to think so. We’ll leave that for you, gentle reader, to decide.

“Lazarus, come forth.” It wasn’t a suggestion, but a command. This was clearly a miracle performed to show those in Bethany (where Jesus had spent so much time) that the Lord had power death. We understand that. We also understand the grief, the sense of loss, Mary, Martha, and Jesus himself felt over Lazarus’s demise. Yet this also was a command which would not have been necessary had Jesus come sooner, had healed Lazarus as he’d healed so many others.

Yet he didn’t.

Dare we impugn Lazarus? Was he lacking in faith? He knew the Lord–saw him–in ways we ourselves do not, and cannot, now know him. Yes, he lives inside. Lazarus knew him, ate with him, laughed with him, loved him.

Yet Jesus let him die.

What a letdown this was for everybody. Mary, Martha, their family, friends, the people of Bethany who knew what Jesus could do, what he had done. They knew, they saw. And yet here was one of his closest friends laid in a tomb, mouldering after three days (“I’m a servant of the Lord! Look what it’s done for me!”).

And if Lazarus, beloved of Jesus, was allowed to die what does this say of us? It seems that, rather than our best lives now, often the beloved of the Lord suffer great hardships, great losses, even die, before the miracles happen. The Christian life is, and this is not original to me, about death:

Jesus’s death on the cross, our respective deaths to ourselves. For it is in dying that we live. The lesson of Lazarus then is that while, yes, God can (and does) heal He doesn’t always. We don’t know why, except that we know him, have experienced his character–that he is good. So the lesson is that even (and sometimes especially) death can be redeemed. Somehow out of death–death to ourselves, expectations, plans–life arises.

Death often precedes the miraculous, the numinous, intruding into the courses of our everyday lives. Why is this? Only God knows.

All that we can do is lay down the gift (life) which God has given each of us back at his feet from whence it originated.

Only then can we truly live. And like Lazarus, we will live again.

Believest thou this?

Recently, I wrote a post entitled Jesus Didn’t Come to Make Your Life Better. As I’ve meditated upon this, I’m more and more convinced that it’s true: Jesus didn’t to make our lives better; rather he died to give us better lives. The distinction is far more than semantic; in fact, there lay a vast gulf between the two. In the one, the expectation is simply to improve upon the existing, e.g. make life better. In the other, well, it’s something else entirely, e.g., a new life.

Jesus didn’t come to improve the exisitng life, as if to renovate it. Rather, He came to tear it down and build something else–something better–in its place. So let us stop with the pandering nonsense of having our best lives now. Jesus came to resurrect the walking dead, but only those who know they’re dead can be raised. In simple point of fact, and in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” There is no improving death. A corpse may appear animate, but is no less dead. This is a paradigm shift of monumental proportions.

It means we die:

To oursleves

To everything we hold dear

To what itching ears want to hear

To self-actualization

To the life we’re trying to build

To all the ways and means of trying to make it day to day which have never quite worked.

In short, we must die to the notion that Jesus came to make this life better, embrace death, and let him raise us into the better life he’s promised.

It’s not easy–far from it. “Consider the cost,” Jesus said. Have you?

If you believe this is true, that a paradigm shift is needed, will you join me in a community project to write it down for posterity? If you’re tired of the lies, of the easy believism, of trying to animate the corpse of a dead life, will you consider sharing the story of your life with me here? Who knows, this may grow into a movement.

The world needs your voice.

Your Last Day

randomlychad  —  January 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

The following is a story I submitted for consideration in a contest last month. It wasn’t chosen as a finalist. It represents the first time I’ve used the  second person in fictional form. A friend of mine read it, and pronounced it the most intriguing, evocative thing I’ve written. This piece is an adaptation from  a much longer work in progress.

Your Last Day

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill, you can bundle up for it. Chillier still is the city itself, and the cold within your soul. You don’t want to get up. You don’t leave your cracker box flat. You’d rather listen to the scurrying of your only friends: the rats and roaches.

But you know you’ve got to go.

You know you failed. Spectacularly failed. You wanted a little for yourself, so you reached for the brass ring. And it didn’t pan out. Not only that, but the boss found out. Mr. Osgood doesn’t suffer fools lightly. You knew the risk, but you were so alone, so unseen, so unknown. You’ve practically been invisible your whole life through, with no one taking much notice of you. No notice at all, really.

Except when you bolloxed things up.

Then they noticed you. Parents, teachers, employers: they saw you for the colossal failure you were…

You get up. Woolgathering won’t make this any easier. You shiver in the cold, stumbling towards the light switch. You flick it on, pass into the bathroom, relieve yourself. You flush, looking down into the swirling water, and see your life going down the drain with your urine.

If only.

But it didn’t.

Why did you cross Osgood?

You don’t know. Except you do: you did it to be noticed. But now you’re not sure you can take the heat your rash choice has brought.

Why?

Why?

WHY???

You’ve been noticed alright. Maybe for the last time. And when you’ve gone no one will know of your demise. Looking in the mirror, you see eyes bloodshot, red-rimmed. You should be weeping–the tears want to come. But you’ve none left.

They’ve been burned out of you, leaving just a cold shell of a soul. The things you’ve done. You knew there was no turning back.

But you had to try.

You turn on the shower, waiting for it to warm. It doesn’t. You get in, shivering all the more. You soap, lather, shampoo. Turning off the water, you reach for your towel. Drying quickly, you get out.

Do you even recognize that face looking back at you in the mirror as you shave? Who is it? Whose is it?

You don’t know. But you do know that it’s like looking at a dead man.

You finish, dressing quickly. Cold as it outside, you don’t bother with your coat. It can’t be colder than it already is inside you. All the tender, soft, human parts of you have long since turned to ice. It would have to be very, very hot indeed to warm you, bring you back. You chuckle, a sardonic warble in your throat.

You leave your apartment. It could burn for all you care; you won’t miss it, or its old, moldy smells of decay. You look down at  your hands, imaging you can see right through them. Alas, you’re not that invisible–still essentially a man.

Maybe Osgood will have mercy.

And maybe whales don’t swallow tiny Krill wholesale.

Mercy?

Where is it? You’ve never seen, nor given, it.

Mercy is the dream of children. But you’ve awoken. And it’s not the world you know. Especially not here. Not in Osgood’s city. Where every dream is a reality. And nightmares lurk just beyond the veil. You know. You helped bring some of them to fruition.

Making your way down the stairs, you want to stop. But don’t. You know better, know nothing good awaits. But you’re drawn by some strange magnetism. You’re drawn to that great man, Osgood, who’s both more, and less, than that.

Had you but known? It wouldn’t have mattered: you would have done the same. You had your time in the sun.

Now it was time to pay the piper.

You make your way out of your building, into the street, not flinching at the cold. You pass the unseeing throngs, bundled against the chill. All your life this is all you’ve known: the hustling bustle of the salmon hordes, streaming this way and that. Everyone fighting for their piece, their dream, their brass ring.

You wish you could watch them burn, but as you head to the subway you know you won’t get the chance. If you were a man of regrets, that’s your only one: that you won’t live to see the world burn.

You deposit your tokens, passing through the turnstile, head onto the platform. Almost you look for number 9.5, but know he would find you even there. There’s no running. Your train arrives. You get on.

It’s a quiet ride to your stop. Cold and dark, people are more insular than usual. Nobody looks up, or around. No one wants to be bothered. Least of all you. You are cold and hard as a glacier, moving inexorably on to what comes next.

You tense your jaw, square your shoulders, squint your eyes. The train arrives at your stop. You get off, make your way back up into the world above. There it is, two blocks over, surpassing every other skyscraper with its sheer size: Osgood Tower.

You swallow. You will not plead. You will not simper, or cower. You will face your fate like a man. You don’t hurry, but you arrive at the building altogether sooner than you suppose. You enter through the revolving door, heading for the elevators.

You get on with a group, punching the number for the highest floor: 144. Osgood’s personal penthouse. They all quickly look at you, and just as quickly look away. They want nothing to do with you, or your fate. It’s almost like they can smell it on you, your utter failure. Your uselessness.

They shrink back as much they can. You don’t blame them. Then you do what you do best, and kill them all. All five souls who thought they were so much better than you. Looking up, you know all but Osgood’s private camera had been disable the moment you stepped on.

“Good, Jud, good,” a voice rumbles over the intercom. “But it’s not enough. Not by half. If anything, you may bought yourself some company for your journey.” The elevator continues to rise.

And rise.

Then it stops at floor one hundred forty-four.

“You know what this is, Jud, right? This is the end. The end of our journey together. The end of what I had hoped would continue to be a fruitful relationship. Alas, it was not be,” Osgood intones with a sigh.

“Goodbye, Mr. Mericot.”

“You’re the devil,” you hear yourself say. And the elevator, Osgood’s elevator, begins to make its plunge.

“No, Jud, nothing so dramatic. Not as far as this world knows. I’m merely your disgruntled former employer,” he says with a chuckle.

The elevator is falling so fast now, the blood you spilled begins to rise, spattering you, the ceiling, the mirrored walls of the car. Like the famous NASA plane, the so-called “vomit comet,” you begin to rise from the floor, feeling nearly weightless.

You feel like you’re falling forever… Forever falling. But you know there will be a sudden stop at fall’s end.

You keep falling, picking up speed.

And then you stop.

The bodies around you float to car’s floor; you follow them.

You’re not dead. At least you don’t think so.

Then the bell dings, doors sliding open.

“Welcome, Mr. Mericot,” a raspy, grating voice intones. “We’ve been expecting you.” You’re suddenly cold–colder than you’ve ever been. The last thing you want to do is leave the confines of the elevator. You try to hold on, but can’t–invisible hands drag you through the air as if you were so much ephemera. The corpses around you rise, streaking up, out, and away.

You know where you are. The one place colder than you. You try to scream, but icy air suddenly solid occludes your throat.

“Mr. Mericot, welcome to Hell.”

—————-

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill…

—————-
You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill… You’ve been here before. The sense of deja vu is a palpable thing. Like someone with synesthesia, you can taste it in the cool air.

Then it dawns on you: you’re reliving your last day.

For eternity.

I Have Bad Breath, And You Don’t Smell So Good Yourself: A Post About Death

Have you noticed how sensitive to smells we are? How bad breath, for instance, is just so unignorable? Why is that? Or how about farts? Themselves, they are are a natural byproduct of both the digestive process, and the air we swallow while eating (or sleeping). Now digestion is an interesting thing: it is the breakdown of the food we eat into its nutritive components. Our bodies require fuel–air, water, food–to carry out the essential metabolic processes which keep them alive. Mechanical digestion begins in the mouth, where mastication (chewing) takes place. Salivary amylase begins the breakdown of starches. Protein digestion begins in the stomach with the release of gastric juices (nutrients are absorbed in our small intestines). Essentially, digestion is a form of decay. Foods are broken down into their component parts, which our bodies then absorb to build our cells.

The natural byproducts (besides both urine and feces) of digestion are often the gas of both burps (air and/or other gases we swallow), and farts. Not to mention halitosis (bad breath), which can be caused by the foods we eat and/or the presence of bacteria in our mouths. All of this is perfectly natural. Yet from a young age, we are often very uncomfortable with, or deeply offended by, these perfectly natural things.

Why is this?

I contend that on an instinctual level it reminds of something; namely, that we are dying. Our bodies, whether through bad breath, burps, farts, the smell of sweaty arm pits, defecation, etc., are constantly reminding us of our impending demise. Else why do these oh-so-natural processes often spark such revulsion and/or discomfiture in us? We don’t shower so much to clean up as to (for a time) wash off the offensive stench of decay which clings so readily to our bodies. We begin dying before we are even born. The byproducts of fetal digestion and cell devision are stored in our colons as meconium (the first poop). This process never stops until we breathe our last. And the bacteria which inhabit our guts, kept in check by living metabolic processes, have a field day after we expire.

This is entropy. Things wind down. “Things fall apart,” as Yeats said. “The center cannot hold.”

We were not originally made this way. Our forebears were not made to die, but chose death anyway. This is, as the Scripture declares, the legacy of the first Adam. Sin entered the world, and through sin, death. This is why, deep, deep down in our inmost beings these reminders of death offend us so:

Because we know were made for more; indeed were once more. We know that our bodies, essential as they are to life as we know it, are not our true selves. Our true selves are soul and spirit–that deep place within us where we commune with God. And someday–sooner or later–this inmost self shall return to God from whence it came.

“Death, thou shalt die.” In the meantime, pass the Beano.

Everybody loves Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, and not harm you. To give you a future and a hope.”

We eat that stuff up like delicious, delicious candy.

Or what about “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me?”

That’s a good one, too!

“Taste and see that the Lord is good, and blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” That’s a great one, which has adorned many a pillow down through the years.

How about “God is faithful in that, with every temptation, He provides a way of escape that you may be able to bear it?”
That’s a good one! And it’s probably the genesis of the oft-quoted (but less than biblical idea) that “God never gives us more than we can bear.”

Poppycock, I say! Tis pure balderdash!

Is this the same God Who says “In this world you will have tribulation?” Is it the same God that admonishes us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” Is is the same God Who promises us “they shall hate you because they first hated Me?”

When the last time you saw that cross-stitched anywhere?

Or taught about in your church for that matter?

What about the epistle of First Peter, where we’re told “after you shall have suffered, God will?” We kind of gloss over that don’t we? Nobody wants to suffer, endure pain, or hardship.

But God promises it.

We shall be delivered up, the world shall hate us. Some of us will even die for our faith–be martyred.

Cheery thoughts, I know. These are the not so precious promises of God. The ones we don’t like think about.

Here’s another one: “Whether we live, or die, it is for Christ.” And “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Fact is, nobody wants to die. But sooner, or later, we all do. There’s no avoiding it. Whether by “famine, or nakedness, or sword, or peril” nothing is able to separate us from his love. Not Ebola, or ISIS.

OR ANY OTHER THING ANYWHERE.

Here’s a promise you can stake your life (and afterlife) upon:

“Fear not him [ISIS, disease, the devil] who can destroy the body, but Him Who can destroy the soul [God].”

What’s your favorite not-so-precious promise of God?