FACING DEATH

Facing deathThe Christian faith holds that the last out-breath at the moment of physical death is not the end, but the gateway to the fullness of eternal life. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the key to what we hope for. Christ, though fully in control, freely chose to surrender his life for our sakes.

Saint Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2.7 – 8). But this humiliation was not the end. Because of his surrender, “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (ibid., 2.9 – 11)

The practical question here is: how can we relate our personal experience to this message of faith? This will be the aim of the next exercise. Before doing it, you might spend a little time reading and reflecting on the Scripture text given above. You will also be better prepared if you go through the last exercise on Descent and ascent of the breath once or twice.

BEING BREATHED WITH JESUS

1. Sit quietly and relaxed, keeping your awareness on the breath for a few rounds.

2. Bring your attention to the out-breath. As the breath is going out, imagine that it is whispering the word “emptied”. Keep your awareness on the out-breath and this word for a few rounds of breath.

3. Focus on the bottom of the breath cycle, when your lungs are empty. Keep your awareness on this empty space, and “hear” the word “death”, again for a few rounds.

4. As the breath flows in, stay with the word “exalted”, again for a few rounds.

5. When your lungs are full, at the top of the breath cycle, stay likewise with the word “Lord”.

6. Bring the four phases together. Follow the entire breath cycle, keeping your awareness in turn on the four words, “emptied”, “death”, “exalted” and “Lord”. Continue for a few rounds.

This exercise is consoling, because it can strengthen your faith that physical death, however dark the experience may be, is not the reality that defines you. You can move towards an acceptance of death in whatever form it takes. As you go down - in life as in the meditation – you are not on your own: Jesus is with you. And, because he has conquered death, you can hope that you too will rise again. This simple meditation also puts you in touch with a basic truth of life: the drama of dying and rising isn't a once-off. It is happening many times daily for each one of us. We may struggle to avoid the slings and arrows that come our way. But this avoidance will not always work and can sometimes leave us worse off. On the other hand, when we freely accept what cannot be changed, and surrender to whatever pain or discomfort we meet with, we may be surprized by a deep sense of inner peace. The same is true each time we sacrifice ourself by acting unselfishly, and genuinely accept pain to help another.