Embodiment, Part 1
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John 1:3-4
In order to reflect on our death and dying, I want to start by sharing my view on how our earthly lives begin. I vainly claim this to be “my” view, although as with all of “my” thoughts, they are far from original to me. I borrow heavily from many contemplative authors and teachers, including Fr. Richard Rohr, James Finley, Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Merton, and others, as well as the teachings of Jesus and the biblical authors. “My” thoughts are formed from my limited understanding of theirs, and that synthesis may not always be true to their insights nor helpful to you. I offer this as fodder for your own ruminations about life, dying, and death.
We have an eternal nature that was never born and will never die. That part of us is our soul. It is a unique expression of the spirit of God, which is the same spirit that “swept over the face of the waters” at the dawn of creation. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word translated as spirit is rauch, which also means air, breath, and wind. It is the entry of spirit into the material of the earth that causes creation to spring forth into what we know as life. In the creation story at the beginning of the Gospel of John, the resulting creation is referred to as the Logos, which is Greek for Word. This Word is the spirit in an earthly body, or embodiment. The image of God’s creating power as Word follows from the Genesis description of creation occurring at God’s verbal command: “And God said, let there be…” This Word can perhaps be better understood as a strong, creative, vibratory impulse – an energy field – more than simply spoken words as we understand them. Our human ears only hear sounds in a very limited vibrational frequency range, but waves of energy exist along an infinite scale above and below our auditory limits. They arrange and rearrange matter in ways that we often consider destructive. Think, for example, of earthquakes, tsunamis, tidal waves, and storm fronts. These are powerful waves pulsing across the earth, often recreating whatever existed before it. A small-scale example of this is often the theme of science fair projects where a student shows how different sound waves arrange grains of sand on a hard surface into different patterns. Those patterns are consistent with and unique to the frequency of the energy, rearranging the sand as the wave frequency changes.
The point is that a part of God’s animating spirit – our soul – embodies itself in earthly garb in order to become the life we know as us. This is how we begin. Like Jesus, we are a perfect and unique blend of spirit and matter. Our physical body is animated by our ethereal soul. Unlike Jesus, however, we become so consumed in the physical nature of our being that we neglect, ignore, and even deny our spiritual nature. There is a story I’ve read in various forms where an older sibling, perhaps three or four years old, asks his younger sibling to tell him about God because he is starting to forget. By the time we begin school, by the time our intellectual functions of reason and logic begin to develop, we lose connection with the spirit and spiritual life which first animated our existence. Our ego takes root and focuses our conscious attention on the material aspects of our lives, or that which makes us comfortable, rich, famous, or otherwise desirable to others. Of course, none of what makes us comfortable, rich, famous, and desirable is inherently bad, but it is all a part of the earth and will die with our body.
This, then creates much of our fear of death – that we will lose our stuff, as well as everything we identified with during our earthly existence. The seduction of the temporal things of the earth leads us to overly identify with what will necessarily be annihilated at our physical death. Like the folks at the funeral of a rich man wondering how much of his fortune he left behind – he left all of it. When we forget about our eternal, spiritual nature, we fear there will be nothing left of us when we die. In actuality, our true self will remain, as it always has. As we learn to identify more with our eternal, spiritual nature, our dread of physical death lessens.
This is the 2nd in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at email@example.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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 Genesis 1:2