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Spiritual Matters

Leaves fall to make way for new life

October 10, 2012 - October: what a glorious month! The stunning, vibrant array of color displayed by Mother Nature for a brief moment inspires many a conversation. Some will speak of their favorite viewing location or remembrances of seasons past. Many declare fall to be their favorite season, others deride it as the prelude to winter complaining of the wet and cold.

When the leaves finally fall, whether slowly, naturally over many weeks, or suddenly, all at once with the wind and rain, the trees are bared and the stunning, vibrant, annual life expression comes to an end. There is the death of the old in the fall so that the new may be reborn in the spring. The cycle of life naturally includes death and new birth.

Chapter 11 of the Gospel according to John contains the curious story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus and the social and political fallout that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. This story has incredible layers of symbology and meaning for all of us, too much to cover in this single column. Today I will focus on Jesus' words concerning death.

The message comes to Jesus and his followers that Lazarus is ill. Jesus says, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God," and so he did not travel immediately to Judea but waited for 2 more days. Then he says, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him out of sleep." His disciples don't understand why He has to awaken a sleeping Lazarus so Jesus has to tell them plainly, "Lazarus is dead."

Now, either we have to conclude that Jesus was mistaken when he declared that Lazarus' illness was "not unto death", or that he lied to his disciples, or that he has some other understanding of the nature of life and death. I prefer the latter, understanding that death is a relative expression of life that has no absolute reality.

Death and birth are inseparable. Each is a beginning and an ending. The sperm and egg die to create the fetus; the fetus comes to an end to become the infant; the infant ends to become the child; the child ends to become the youth; the youth ends to become the adult. We have to die to what we were to become what we will be. We have to release the old way of thinking and believing in order to enter into the "glory of God."

Jesus understood death, not as an ending but, as a new beginning. Therefore, "It is not death but dawn" as the poet has written. It is a new relationship with life without the old physical expression. Each ending and new beginning is a process that we go through sometimes joyfully and often painfully. The Ego or personality or local self sees this death to the old as a finality, an ending not a new beginning and therefore we experience grief over the apparent loss of the old.

Sometimes we need help to see beyond the relative appearances of death and loss. Grief is a natural human expression when we experience the death of a loved one or other significant loss such as of a job, a divorce or of a belief system. It takes time to work through the stages of grief, there is no rushing it; it can only be prolonged or delayed by denial of the process. And, we can receive support as we walk through the process and support others in the process with prayer, a listening ear and a loving heart.

The anger and pain we see expressed in society today: in the political process, in the media, in many churches and organizations, is at the same time a result of the denial of the natural process of change that is occurring and a stage of the process. Our part, as emerging Universal Humans with Jesus, is to "hold the high watch": not to get caught up in the relative appearances but to hold the vision of "the glory of God" being made manifest. And so it is!

Blessings of peace, joy & love

The Rev. Matthew E. Long is pastor of Peace Unity Community

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