Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

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Embodiment, Part 2

For every matter has its time and way, although the troubles of mortals lie heavy upon them. Indeed, they do not know what is to be, for who can tell them how it will be? No one has power over the wind, or power over the day of death. Ecclesiastes 8:6-8a

As I began this discussion on earthly embodiment last week, I wrote that things of the earth are temporal, but things of the spirit, i.e., our souls, are eternal. Regarding things of the earth, this is only true of specific earthly forms, like our bodies. As we observe creation in our specific space and time, we see people and things all around us that were once alive that are now dead. In the woods outside my window there is a dead tree that fell into the crook of another tree. I have seen the dead bodies of friends, family, and loved ones. The leaves of the maple trees in my back yard turn red and orange each autumn before they die and fall to the ground. But is any of this really dead?

The answer to the question depends on what we consider to be alive. The specific earthly form that I knew as a loved one, a tree in the forest, or a maple leaf is no more. But the elements making up that body, tree trunk, or leaf are eternal. Bodies, tree trunks, and leaves, once vibrant with life, lose their old form as they go through the natural decomposition and re-formation process. When I was young, we would rake leaves from the yard into a pile and burn them, reducing their forms to a small pile of ashes. Even so, their elements remained, either being released into the air in the smoke or becoming part of the ashes. Nothing of the earth was lost, only transformed. This is the nature of earthly immortality, as it has been for billions of years. Will we live forever in our current form? No, but the elements our bodies are made from will, as will the soul that coalesces and animates the earthly elements.

We see this process of formation, destruction, and reformation all around us, although much of it occurs on a timeline alien to us. There is geological evidence that my home state of Kansas was once a vast ocean, although it is a thousand miles from the nearest ocean today. A small Missouri town that once sat on the eastern banks of the Missouri River is now a small Kansas town on the western banks of the same river. As the floodwaters of decades past receded, the river changed its course and the town changed its resident state. Over the centuries, rocks crumble and mountains erode. Families, corporations, and dynasties come and go. Teacher and author Richard Rohr says the natural course of everything in creation is order, disorder, reorder. Depending on the form, this life-cycle may occur in hours or eons. Resurrection plays out all around us all the time.

We tend to think of our physical bodies as stable and unchanging, which is far from true. Approximately 50 to 70 billion of our cells die and are replaced each day. Every part of our body is replaced every seven years or so. We exchange elements with the world around us with every breath, and our bodies integrate elements from other earthly beings with everything we eat. There is a constant exchange happening between our bodies and the world around us. Over the course of a lifetime, our bodies will have integrated elements from all over the world. The point is that, appearances aside, these bodies that seem so solid are actually fluid and dynamic.

The separation process of soul from body, as occurs at physical death, almost always requires some sort of major trauma to the body, rendering it uninhabitable. This is often the failure of a key bodily organ or some other traumatic event. Despite the advances in medical practice, and in spite of the constant remaking process, physical bodies reach a point where the soul can no longer hold the form together. The earthly elements of the body remain with the earth, and the ethereal elements of the spirit return to the realm of spirit.

This, then, is a view of the nature of our earthly lives and deaths. A portion of God’s spirit – our soul – takes on elements of the earth and embodies itself for a time. When that time is up, the body and soul go their separate ways. Nothing, however, is lost or annihilated. The form is re-form-ulated, and our soul – the true essence of who we are – lives on.

This is the 3rd in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.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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The Fiery Face of God

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” Exodus 3:2

Fire is an amazing phenomenon, almost like something outside of the rest of creation. Its sustenance requires three things: fuel, oxygen, and heat. Combining these three elements is not sufficient for a fire to actually manifest, however. There must also be an ignition source – a spark to initiate or invite the fire to begin. Fire, like electricity, is neither good nor bad; rather, fire can produce either good or bad results. Fire can heat a home, cook a meal, and provide soothing light; fire can also reduce a home to ashes or burn a person beyond recognition.

God manifests as fire in numerous places in the Bible. In Exodus, God appears to Moses as a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames. God leads the Israelites out of Egypt as a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:22). Psalm 29:7 proclaims, “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” The New Testament author of Hebrews writes, “…for indeed our God is a consuming fire” (12:29). You get the picture: one of the faces of God is fire.

The ancient science of Alchemy used fire to purify metals like gold and silver. The art of the practice was to apply the right amount of heat to a substance in order to burn away the impurities without consuming the precious metal. Considering alchemy in an allegorical sense, God is the divine alchemist applying fire to us in order to burn away that which is unhelpful in us. The difficult, challenging, and painful times of our lives can be seen as a divine torch, burning away our narcissism, humbling us, and sometimes driving us to our knees in a cry for mercy. While I do not believe God rains hard times down upon us – we do that to ourselves – I do believe God takes what remains and stands ready to remake us anew. In the sense that one of the faces of God is fire, that fire is a resurrecting fire. Unfortunately, some measure of destruction is necessary for resurrection to occur, so the initial phases of the rebirthing process often feel more like a punishing fire from hell.

A legendary bird, the Phoenix, was said to live until reaching a certain stage of decline when it would simply burst into flame, reducing itself to ashes, only to rise again as a new creation from those very ashes. It is a mythical example of the pervasive cycle of life: birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth. A more down to earth example occurs annually in the Flint Hills of Kansas, which are burned to black stubble every spring, only to be reborn to an iridescent green a short time later. The centuries-old practice of prairie burning purges the old growth, replenishes the nutrients in the ground, and clears the way for the rebirth of the prairie.

The analogy of God manifesting as fire assures us that our God is not an emotionless bystander. Fire is symbolic of passion and action. God’s love for us is fierce and tenacious. We do not consciously experience the fiery love of God because we are seldom in a state of sufficient awareness to recognize it. Regardless, God’s love burns brightly for each of us. The creator in God recycles all the elements of the earth in a never-ending dance of recreation, molding new combinations and rebirthing the old. Nothing is wasted, ever – no experience, no element, no being. When necessary, God manifests as a consuming fire, forcing the old to release the elements of its construction in order to allow a new creation to enter.

One face of God is fire – feel the burn…

Note: this is the tenth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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How Did I Miss That?

Part 7: Resurrection is a Reoccurring Reality

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

I do not know how I missed it, but resurrection is all around us, all of the time. To be sure, it is called by different names – the changing seasons, graduations, marriages, childbirth, death, sunrise, sunset – but the changing from one stage of life to another is constant. The cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth is forever present in us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As a Christian, I associate resurrection with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What I missed, however, was that the same pattern is repeated in all of life as a natural, ongoing process, albeit not always in as dramatic a fashion. The resurrection of Jesus is the core belief of Christianity, and the resurrection – having its central figure return to life from death – is the distinguishing feature separating it from other enduring religions.

Among Christians, we debate about how much of the biblical record we believe literally, but we tend to overlook how much of the lives recorded therein serve as a metaphor for our lives and the life around us. Science confirms that rebirth is an ongoing process. Every cell in our bodies is replaced at least every 7 years, so we are entirely remade many times over the course of our lives. Jesus talks about wheat in the passage from John 12. He says unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and “dies,” it will forever remain only a single grain of wheat. Once the seed dies, however, it grows into a plant that forms a seed head with hundreds of grains of wheat. When those grains fall to the earth and die, thousands of grains of wheat result. Knowing that, did the initial grain of wheat die, or did it transform its existence? Clearly, it was transformed, and so are we whenever a part of us dies. When Jesus rose from the dead, he was not the same person in the same body. He was transformed. Even his own disciples did not recognize him until he spoke.

The moral of resurrection is that change is good and necessary. New life cannot begin until an old life passes away. This is rebirth, and death is its prerequisite. It is what provides second chances and new starts. Much as we may feel safe and secure in our current life, nothing remains the same for long. We are designed for change, and we are led into numerous transformations over the course of a lifetime. We can change willingly, or we can go kicking and screaming. Either way, we will die to our old self and be reborn to a new one.

Resurrection is a reoccurring reality. How did I miss that?

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Graduation: Death and Resurrection

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Luke 24:36-37

Last week, my son moved out of his fraternity house. After four years at the University of Kansas, after completing the many celebrations, and after the honors and congratulatory hugs, it was time to move on. When I asked this ever-optimistic young man about it, he declared it a sad day. He said goodbye to the Beta house and to the 22 members of his pledge class, and while he will undoubtedly see both again, it will not be the same. Although Reid was ready to move on, there was a somber sense of nostalgia that lingered, as is often the case whenever we move from one phase of life to another.

We are not always ready for the graduations of our lives. Some just happen in the normal course of living. Some are expected, while others catch us unprepared. College, for my son, was a four-year experience. That was the way it was planned, and that was the way it happened. He did not necessarily seek a life change, nor did he seek to avoid it. The change just happened, and the end came quickly enough that perhaps it caught him off guard. Many milestones in our lives are that way: marriages, job changes, health challenges, the losses of loved ones. Ready or not, we “die” to one phase of life and are born into another – like Jesus, we are resurrected into a new version of our world.

Starting over can be exciting and it can be hard – both at the same time. I remember the transition from elementary to middle school: transitioning from the biggest, smartest, and most in-control in the school to being the smallest, dumbest, and least in-control – at least that was how it felt. When our surroundings change there will be a degree of discomfort. Moving on due to a graduation of some sort, however, should also involve moving up. We find ourselves in a new situation, but with the knowledge and experience gained from the past. We are changed, and we will never be the same.

It is interesting how Jesus, following his crucifixion and resurrection, appeared to his disciples a number of times and was usually not recognized. It was Jesus, but it was the resurrected Jesus – the graduated Jesus, if you will. I imagine it was similar to seeing a formerly close friend one has not seen for many years. We must look twice and consider carefully to remember who this is and in what context we knew them. The person has changed, although vestiges of their past remain. We are products of our many graduations. Life moves on and invites us to do the same. Death and rebirth are the cycles of life, as inescapable as the cycles of day and night, winter and spring. It is life, and though sometimes sad, life is good.

May our graduations, deaths, and resurrections carry us to ever higher levels of being!

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The River, a Sugar Maple, and Jesus

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:2

The image of time as a river is powerful for me. A river, like time, flows in one direction and is always on the move. Sometimes the surface is rough and choppy, other times it is smooth as glass – not unlike the way we experience our days on earth. The river eventually flows to the sea, where the water is reabsorbed into the atmosphere to fall as rain across the land, replenishing the rivers. And on and on it flows.

The season of autumn also reminds me of the passage of time. As leaves that were bright green only days ago turn red, orange, and yellow, and then fall to the ground, I am reminded that everything we know as life goes through its seasons and eventually dies. Certain life forms go out in a blaze of glory, like the leaves of the sugar maple in my backyard. They refuse to pass without creating a scene. Its river of time flows froSugar Maplem the soil to its roots, through its truck, and into its leaves each year. Another river carries the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere through its leaves, converting it to sugars, then down into its roots to be stored as food for next season’s glorious resurrection. And on and on life goes.

The amazing circle of life is always on the move. Jesus modeled this cycle for us. He lived, he died, and he was resurrected. There is nothing to fear in death, he tells us. Look and see; I was dead, and yet I live! It is the same message as the river, as the sugar maple, and of all creation. We live, we die, and we live again. Most of our deaths are not physical, but transitions from one stage of life to another. Eventually, our physical death does come, and we cannot know what lies beyond. We can know, however, that there is more life. That is the message of Jesus, and the river, and the sugar maple.

I wrote a song some years ago called The River of Time. I am pleased to share it with others contemplating the passage of time: https://contemplatinggrace.com/music/the-river-of-time/. Whether we view the passage of time as a river, a tree, or a Savior, life is passing through and from us. And as time passes by, we are transformed – older, wiser, more frail perhaps, but always reborn into a new being. The river flows. The sugar maple grows. Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus lives again. True then, true now and forever.

Come home to church this Sunday. Celebrate the river, celebrate autumn, celebrate life!

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Life Notes


And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

Lately, I have been contemplating resurrection. Among the images conjured up by the word are revival, rejuvenation, and rebirth. Earlier this week, I got a call from a police detective. He was at my brother’s apartment and called to tell me my brother was dead.

There was a time when Wade and I were best friends. We learned to snow ski together. We vacationed together. We played basketball, golf, and mud volleyball together. He was the best man at my wedding, and I at his. He had a quirky sense of humor and was always fun company. And then about 20 years ago something in Wade’s brain chemistry shifted, and he ended up in a mental institution for the first of many hospitalizations. At first, his illness was something we dealt with together. As the years passed, however, a wedge developed between us – a wedge due in part to his illness and in part to my anxiety. There was the day in court as his wife and I sought to have him involuntarily committed. There were several nerve-wracking drives, taking him to the hospital as his psychosis raged. A part of Wade became suspicious of me, as if I were looking for any reason to send him back to a mental ward. A part of me resented the need monitor Wade’s mental state with every encounter. Was he in a common realm of reality, or was he only pretending? When he was pretending, he could be unnerving. Perhaps my biggest fear was that his illness would incapacitate him and I, as his oldest sibling, would need to become his legal guardian.

Today, as I reflect on my life with Wade, I realize the discomfort, the anxieties, and the challenges of the past 20 years are gone. The wedge between us has been removed as surely as the stone of Christ’s tomb was rolled away. They, along with his body, now belong to the earth where they can sprout into new life. Wade’s soul is once again free to be the truest and freest version of itself — funny, quirky, loving life and those with whom he shares it. In a fit of unexpected resurrection, I have my brother back.

And this is the essence of resurrection — making things new and better, restoring what is good, healing what is sick, removing that which stands between us and love. In the sadness of losing my brother as a physical presence, I have regained the unfettered memories of the brother I loved dearly. And I can immerse myself in those memories without worrying about when, where, and how the next manifestation of his illness will occur. Part of me always knew those episodes were the illness and not my brother, but sometimes it was difficult to separate the two. Not anymore. Wade’s human frailties are committed to the earth, and he is free. For that, and for the extraordinary experiences, I rejoice.

Godspeed, my brother!

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