DYING TO LIVE

death and resurrectionThe following meditation on death and resurrection can help you cope with the fear of death – by looking at death in a concrete way. It is based on the text of Saint Paul: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”. (Romans 6.3 ‑ 4)

Paradoxically, it is only through accepting death that we become free of our anxieties and fears around death. The rhythm of nature and of the seasons all involve an experience of dying in many different ways – and yet life goes on. As Christians we see death as the gateway into a new and richer life - the life that Jesus has won through his death and resurrection. As he himself puts it: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12.24) Our physical death is part of a larger picture: earthly life - physical death - eternal life. Jesus uses the metaphor of the dying seed that produces a plentiful harvest, to illustrate the abundant life to which God is calling us.

As we begin to face the truth about death and all the letting-go that goes with it, we will come to know a deepening peace within us – even though dying means losing our body, our conscious mind, our loved ones and everything we have in this world. This graced peace is no illusion. A concrete example of entering wholeheartedly into this mysterious truth is that of a 30 year-old footballer, an outstanding athlete, who was wasting away with terminal cancer. The day before he died, his doctor asked him how he was. He was able to respond: “I have never been so well in all my life. This last year has been my best ever”.

The following meditation on death and resurrection can help you cope with the fear of death – by looking at death in a concrete way. It is based on the text of Saint Paul: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”. (Romans 6.3 ‑ 4) Here Paul is reflecting the practice of the early Christian community, when Baptism was done by immersion. The candidate was submerged fully in the water. The adult converts that Paul was writing to would have experienced being “buried” in the water as if in a grave. It would have given them a vivid sense of going down into the tomb with Christ and being associated with his death. Then, coming up out the water, the newly-baptized person would have had a physical sense of being refreshed and more fully alive, just like a swimmer emerging from cold water.

The first time you approach this exercise, just read and reflect on these words of Saint Paul. Then you may might simply lie on your back for a few minutes. If you decide to go through the full exercise, you might move through the different stages of the meditation fairly quickly on your first time round. In time, when you feel ready for it, you can enter more deeply into the process. Its more challenging aspect is of course the first half, where the emphasis is on letting go, on dying and going down. Be gentle with yourself as you go through this part. Always give at least as much time and attention to the second (“rising”) half of the meditation, for the truth is that death is overcome by resurrection. (see I Corinthians 15.54 ‑ 56)

DEATH AND RESURRECTION

1. Lie flat on your back and relax. Become aware of your body sensations. Allow some time for the breath to slow down. Focus on your sense of hearing, just noting the different sounds that are round about you.

2. Remind yourself that one day you will lie just like this in death. You will die just as surely as Jesus died. Yet, through faith you can also rise like him from the dead.

3. Focus your attention on the out‑breath. As the breath flows out, imagine that your body is slowly sinking into the ground. With each successive out-breath allow yourself to descend into your “grave”. Keep in mind the words, “we have been buried with him by baptism into death”.

4. As you let go of each breath, sense yourself inching your way downwards, until you are just beneath the ground; then one foot below... two feet ... and eventually six feet below. Rest there for a little while. You might imagine that you are lying in the tomb of Jesus, just like him surrendering your life to God.

5. Move your attention from the out-breath to the in-breath. As you receive the breath, bring to mind the words: “as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”.

6. With each in-breath begin to rise up inch by inch from the bottom of your “grave”. Receive with gratitude and love the new life that God is giving you.

7. At the end of your upward movement, rest quietly on the ground for some time, perhaps “hearing” a phrase like “newness of life” or “Christ was raised”.