CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
We meet four strangers in the course of life: Otherness, Mortality, Sexuality, and God. Whether we make friends or enemies of these strangers determines whether we live in the joy of wholeness or in the anguish of fragmentation.
In our early weeks and months of living, we don’t know the difference between ourselves and our surroundings. That is especially true with our mothers. We grow to birth inside of them. We are not separate individuals. When we are first born, we still feel like we are a part of our mother’s body, especially as we nurse. We feel like we are a part of the rest of the world around us, too. We can’t tell the difference between where we end and our crib begins.
Gradually, though, we become aware that we and the world are not one. We are separate from everything else. Our skin is a dividing line, between us and all else. That is especially true as we encounter other people. Brothers and sisters or playmates want the same attention and the same toys that we want. That is a rude awakening. We are not the whole world. We have to deal with the stranger called Otherness.
We encounter Mortality and Sexuality at about the same time.
It is said that we learn when we are in grade school that others die, but in high school, we learn that we shall die. That is one of the reasons for teen suicide, meeting the stranger called Mortality. Even though a child has many years of life ahead, the thought of death is so depressing that, paradoxically, he or she kills him or herself to avoid dying. On the other hand, there is the conventional wisdom that teens think they will live forever, that nothing can kill them. That is why they drive and drink so recklessly, and take so many other chances. But they take those chances not because they believe that they are invulnerable, but to try to prove that they are.
Thankfully, most of us don’t kill ourselves as teens, but the stranger called Mortality keeps looking over our shoulder, making us uneasy the rest of our lives. Does life mean anything if it only ends in death?
At about the same time we become aware of Mortality, Sexuality comes along. We are having a good time, playing games, going to school, teasing girls about having cooties or claiming that “Girls rule, boys drool,” when suddenly hormones jump onto us and turn us into sex maniacs.
Then there is God, the stranger who can approach us at any time, but who chooses most often those times when our lives are being turned upside down by the appearance of the other strangers, Otherness and Sexuality and Mortality.
St. Augustine talked about “a God-shaped void within us.” John Wesley talked about “prevenient [preventing] grace.” Whatever image you use, the fourth stranger shows up, usually at the least expected time.
We don’t know any better how to handle the fourth stranger than we do the other three. We sense the divine presence, though, in various ways. We can deal with the fourth stranger either by denial, a method we use often with the first three strangers also, or we can try to make friends.
For those of us who want to bloom before we are planted for the last time, this is our moment. This is the time that Mortality has quit lurking in the background and has slipped up close. The very closeness of Mortality gives us a chance to make friends with the whole strange bunch. We have a final chance to get whole.
We have the rare opportunity now to turn the four strangers into a quartet of old friends. Otherness and Sexuality are no longer insisting that each must sing lead. God is there to sing the bass, provide the foundation. Mortality, rather than just lurking at the back of the stage, is ready to step up and join with the others.
This is the gift of age: If we get each of the strangers to sing their parts, the harmony is so perfect that it sounds like one song.
I tweet as yooper1721.
I have often extolled my old friend, Walt Wagener, as one who is expert at “blooming where he’s planted.” Once when I did so, Helen said, “I want to bloom BEFORE I’m planted.” So I started writing a book of meditations for old people, sort of like my book for cancer patients. I called it BLOOM BEFORE YOU’RE PLANTED. I was never able to get an agent or publisher to be interested in the idea, though, so I’m now using some of the “chapters” for that book in this blog.