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Posts Tagged ‘life cycles’

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Dying Before We Die, Part 2

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a

Nature has no edges. Sharp, straight edges and clear lines of demarcation are human, not divine inventions. In my former work as a landscape designer, much of my work was to soften the edges created by the human need for distinct lines of separation. As such, it should come as no surprise that dying is not a precise occurrence. The medical definition of physical death is the cessation of all vital bodily functions. Sometimes, however, people come back to life after having been pronounced dead. Some have quite interesting stories to tell of the experience. I was told after my father’s death that some bodily functions would continue for some time, like hair growth. I had the opportunity to spend considerable time with my mother and grandmother as they passed from this life. Both transitioned over a period of weeks as they gradually withdrew from their material interests. Awakening and finding themselves still in this reality was not always a pleasant experience for either of them. They were becoming familiar with their new destination and were ready to move on.

We all are dying all of the time, even though our final, physical death may be many years away. Death is an on-going process. An estimated 50-70 million cells in our bodies die each day through a natural process called apoptosis. The inescapable cycle for all earthly life is birth, growth, decline, and death. Each stage is its own wonderful process and occurs in its own time. And the stages overlap. We see and accept the pattern all around us, but we have difficulty seeing or accepting it within ourselves. Each new day births with a sunrise, matures its way to sunset, and dies into night. The passing of a single day does not diminish the number of days. Seasons move deliberately from spring to summer to fall to winter – birth, growth, decline, death – only to repeat the cycle over and over again. What we know from nature but deny in ourselves is that death is not the end of life. Rather, death moves life to its next phase. Death is transformational, not terminal. The cellular and structural combinations forming everything around us must decline and die in order for its elements to be reborn as something new.

Our souls draw physical elements from the earth in order to embody themselves for a time. When that time is complete, the soul releases the physical elements back to the earth and both soul and elements move on to a new adventure. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. We cannot stop the sun from rising any more than we can prevent our own maturation. All things happen in their own sovereign time. When we let an unhealthy addiction die, when we move beyond an emotional wound, when we cease clinging to the tyranny of a painful injustice, we die before we die. We take control of something that has been controlling us. We recycle the energy that was required for the maintenance of the old and free it for something new. The season for that is over; now is the season for this. It is all part of the beautifully relentless cycle of birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth. Our life is an endless series of second chances. All are glorious gifts from our Creator.

A contemplative life tunes itself to the natural rhythms of our physical and spiritual being through contemplative practices. We assess the parts of our lives that are no longer useful, and in the spirit of dying before we die, we allow those parts to be recycled as their season passes. In this progressive and eternal context, there is no good or evil because, together, all things move us toward the perfection of God’s creation. In the Revelation to John (21:5), Christ says, “See, I am making all things new.” Our pain, our suffering, the injustices of the world all work to set the course upon which our collective life is relentlessly heading. Those combinations that move us toward a more inclusive and just existence are strengthened, and those working in the other direction are recycled. Nothing is wasted or lost. It seems a slow process, but in the context of eternity, there is no rush. Rather, for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

This is the 8th in the series of Life Notes titled A Contemplative Life.

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The Faces of God: Unseen Movement

 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

In the coming weeks, Life Notes will explore some of the ways God manifests in our lives. I will reflect on the God of the Bible, the Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit), and my own encounters with this mystery of mysteries. John 1:18a tells us, “No one has ever seen God.” If that is true, how can I presume to write anything worthwhile about the “faces” of God?  My usage of faces here refers to God’s persona – God’s mask, if you will – or the different ways God appears to us on earth. In the way a versatile actor portrays many characters, so God manifests in our lives under many different faces.

The first manifestation from God recorded in the Bible (Genesis 1:1) is that of wind. “A wind from God swept over the waters.” Meteorologists tell us that winds are movements of air from areas of high atmospheric pressure to areas of low pressure. It is an informative description of unseen movement from point to point. Jesus tells Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish elite, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). One way God manifests is as unseen movement. We do not know where it comes from or where it goes, but we can perceive its motion around and through us when we pay attention.

A common illustration of unseen movement is the water cycle. Water flows from higher areas down into lakes, streams, and oceans where evaporation carries it back up into the atmosphere, only to fall back to earth as rain. It is a constantly occurring sequence, emptying and refilling, happening mostly outside of our conscious awareness, and it pervades every corner of the earth. Nothing is ever lost; it only changes form and location. Blood flow in the body is another example, where the heart pushes blood out to the organs and extremities, and then draws it back in. In respiration, we breathe in, and we breathe out. These movements of air, wind, water, and blood support the essence of all life, and they are animated by the unseen movement of God.

Of course, the Bible does not say that God is the wind. In the creation account in Genesis, a wind from God sweeps over the waters. It is this unseen movement from God that initiates creation, and everything else follows. God expresses in the constant, dynamic, and ever-flowing relationship between all parts of creation, connecting all that is, holding everything and everyone together by invisible bonds, including us.

God is on the move as an invisible, vibrant presence, sweeping over the depths of our lives, encouraging us to love and care for others as we learn to love and care for ourselves. Like water seeking the lowest places, God moves to where the pain is. If we are sufficiently attuned to God’s presence, we are carried along to the suffering, marginalized, and unfortunate persons along our journey for a reason – to relieve suffering and transform it for good. We (hopefully) experience this presence in return as family and friends surround us in our times of trouble, like angels carried our way from God. In those caring, healing expressions, we see the face of a loving, creating, and always present God. God’s movement is a continuous giving and receiving, emptying and refilling, breathing in and breathing out, under-girding everything we know in creation.

The face of God is on the move. Can you feel it?

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Life Notes—January 17, 2013 

“For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; and they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

Psalm 90:9-10

The past few winters it was ladybugs.  This winter, box elder bugs.  These harmless, but annoying creatures have invaded our house in impressive numbers.  Typically, I gently but firmly grab the offender and escort it outside to fend for itself, as God intended.  The unlucky ones seen first by my wife meet a quick and flattened end, prior to a burial at sea via the sewer system.  Until recently, I assumed they were seeking immortality, extending their life by a generation or two by surviving a winter meant to kill them.  And who could blame them?  Personally, I do not seek an expedited end to my earthly days; nor do I prefer spending cold nights outside when there is plenty of cozy, warm space inside.  How can I begrudge a box elder bug the desire to extend or improve its buggy existence?

In preparing for this Life Note I did a (very) little research on box elder bugs, and guess what?  They do not typically die in the winter anyway, but hibernate in leaf piles.  When the weather warms in the spring they climb a tree, mate, lay eggs and then proceed to the box elder bug hereafter—not due to the cold winter, but because that is their life cycle as designed by their Maker.  So, our winter visitors have not been seeking immortality, as I first assumed, but simply finding a warmer place to bide their time until mating season.  No doubt, I learned that once upon a time in Biology class.

My initial focus for this Life Note was intended to be that we are all accorded a finite amount of time to live on and from the earth, and that is the natural flow of creation and the course God intended our lives to assume.  At our death we relinquish our place on earth to make room and resources for another life to flourish.  I intended to use the lowly box elder bug seeking immortality as my illustration of consciously going against God’s will and plan.  However, in light of my research it turns out the box elder bugs have not been seeking immortality, but simply attempting to improve the conditions under which they live out the days allotted to them in the God’s grand creation scheme.  Perhaps this week’s lesson is that I need to be less judgmental about the motives of my fellow creatures.  We are all just dealing with life’s challenges the best way we know how.  Be that as it may, box elder bugs caught in our home can expect to miss their mating season in favor of an expedited meeting with their Maker!

Rev. Stan Hughes will preach downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch continues his “Covenant” series at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  We’ll try not to bug you…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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