Human life and its death is a singular thing. Animals live, and then they die, and their life is done. They are simply absorbed back into the great mother soul of which their lives on earth were extensions.
But human life and death is different. Our births on earth are already a death. Part of our spiritual being dies into the world of matter. Our births are occasions of mingled hope and sadness for the angels who watch us drop away into the far country. Our birth on earth is a death in heaven.
But each of us is given a seed to take along with us on the journey. This seed is present from the day we are born, safely embedded in our physical nature. It slowly germinates during the course of our lives. It is a fearsome gift, but nonetheless most precious, for it guarantees that we will be able to find the doorway back into heaven again. It is the seed of death.
The gradual growth of the death seed in us means on the one hand a gradual damping down of the power of life in the body. But it is meant to be accompanied by a corresponding growth in the scope, the depth, the breadth of our our consciousness. As we age on earth our death seed is meant to be growing and ripening fruits of inner awareness for us to bring back to heaven. The fruits of
- deep, rich memories of our past
- of clear wakefulness in the present
- of vigorous and enthusiastic plans for the future.
We meet the young man of Nain at the point of his earthly death. His fruits of past, present and future had fully ripened. He had brought to fruition all of his inwardness. And so his earthly life had come to its end. Seen from the outside this death is cause for weeping. But seen from the world of the angels, his death is cause for rejoicing; for as he was dying on earth, he was being born into the spiritual world;not merely absorbed back, like an animal, but born there again as a discrete entity bringing back ripened fruits from afar. The angels rejoiced at the arrival of this richly laden human soul in their midst.
Christ blesses the young man’s ripeness; and he empathizes with the suffering of those left behind-especially the mother, widowed and destitute, who has no future. Perhaps He recognizes that this particular man’s fruits are needed on the earth. And so the angels and perhaps even the young man himself, are asked to make a sacrifice.
Christ brings the young man’s ripeness back to earth. It is as though the young man is born again on earth, but this time out of the spirit. We can imagine the spiritual power of his words as he begins to speak.
Perhaps he would say, as does the poet:
Death is strange and hard
if it is not our death, but a death
that takes us by storm, when we’ve ripened none within us.*
He might remind us, as do the words of the burial service: that we are beholden to the spiritual world for every thing that we think and say and do.
In the depths of our being we know that the death seed within comes wrapped with this encouragement written in angelic script: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply your gifts of consciousness. And bring us back the fruits.
And we, musing:
We stand in your garden year after year.We are trees for yielding a sweet death.But fearful, we wither before the harvest.*
And, just beyond our ordinary hearing, they reply what angels always say:
“Fear not! Do not be afraid! Have no fear! For Christ, the Wakener of the Dead, is with you always.”
And so we pray:
God, give each of us our own death,
the dying that proceeds
from each of our lives
the way we loved
the meanings we made…*
*Rilke, Book of Hours