I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and
to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his
~ Phil 3:10
In his text
Opening the Hand of
Thought, the Zen master and Abbot Kosho Uchiyama writes that
the term gosho or
afterlife refers to
“the life that arises when one clarifies this matter of death.
It means knowing clearly just what death is, and then
really living out one’s life.
. . . As long as this matter of death remains unclear,
everything in the world suffers.” (p. 8) As we enter this year’s
celebration of Holy Week, we are once again drawn into the
remembrance of and participation in the passion, death, and
resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
This week we turn our attention, in a focal way, to the
reality of death and the mystery of the embracing of the human
condition unto death by God in Jesus.
We face death as an undeniable reality of human existence
and openly await that clarification of its meaning in
resurrected life that comes after that going through and
“reproducing [in our lives] the pattern of his death.”
How does this ultimate gift of God in
Jesus to us mortal beings serve our process of clarifying death and
living the “eternal life” that comes from this clarification?
A key to this question lies in the words of St. Paul that
call us to “reproduce the pattern” of Jesus’ death or, as in another
translation, “being conformed to his death.”
We clarify death by reproducing in our lives “the pattern of
his death.” It is by dying the death of Jesus that we come to
eternal life. In Adam and Eve
we choose Illusion and therefore death as our destiny.
In the life and death of Jesus we die to that destiny and
then begin to “really live out” the life that is our destiny from
What does it mean to reproduce in
ourselves the pattern of Jesus death?
Familiar words from the Book of Job help us to begin to
understand. “Naked I came
from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and
the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job
1:21) To conform to the death
of Jesus is to realize that what we take to be our self-identity,
all with which we clothe ourselves, is not our deepest life.
The person each of us takes our self to be is far different
from the naked self that we came into the world as and will leave
as. Our ordinary
consciousness is based on who we are in relationship to and in
comparison with others. From
the beginning of our lives our formation is in large part
conformation. We come to
experience ourselves in terms of our “place” in the world of others.
But this is not our deepest identity.
The life and the death of Jesus is a life of self-emptying, a
relinquishing of all that he even rightly could lay claim to, that
he become formed into a vessel for the love of God, an instrument of
God’s will. At the end of his
life, almost all have abandoned him, and even those who haven’t,
Jesus relinquishes as a gift to each other. “Woman, this is your
son. . . . This is your mother.”
(John 19: 26-7) For us
to conform ourselves to the death of Jesus is to become in him
obedient to the truth of things and the reality of death, and thus
to realize with him the life after death that we live as our “naked
In his commentary on Galatians 2:20, (“I
am crucified with Christ.”), Oswald Chambers writes:
There will have to be a
relinquishing of my claim to my right to myself in every phase.
Am I willing to relinquish my hold on all I possess, my hold
on my affections, and on everything, and to be identified with the
death of Jesus Christ?
So much of the life we create is designed to
distinguish and separate us out from all the others.
It is, in the understanding of Adrian van Kaam, the attempt
of our “pride form” to experience a sense of self-rule, or autarchy.
The relinquishing, that is the identification, that Oswald
Chambers describes is a letting go of all the aspects of our lives
that are self-creations. It
is the letting go of the demands of the pride form, that the Christ
form may become ascendant in us.
Perhaps many of us have memories of those
Good Fridays when we were young.
It was not unusual to be told to spend the three hours from
noon to three in the afternoon in quiet.
It seemed so incredibly difficult, on a day off from school,
not to be able to be occupied, to run around and to play in the
usual ways. Those three hours
of stillness and silence were among the longest hours of the entire
year. This experience would
presage a tension and anxiety that continues to haunt us no matter
our age. We may experience no
greater anxiety than that which arises when we are not occupied,
active, productive, distracted, amused, or entertained in the usual
ways. What am I, who am I
when I am not living a life in response to my and others’ notions
and ideas about myself.
Uchiyama writes: “The reality
of the life of the self is simply to live life just as it is.” (p.
34) There is at once nothing
so simple yet so difficult as to simply live life just as it is.
Doing so always entails for us a wrenching of ourselves from
our ordinary ways of living and the demands that our cultures make
on us. In the earliest
centuries of the Church those we call the Desert Fathers and Mothers
fled into the wilderness of the desert to find a place a silence and
solitude where they could have some chance of living life as it is.
In fact, the pulls of shared life are so powerful, that some
kind of break or distance from our ordinary way of living seems to
be a prerequisite for all of us if we are to touch the real life
that is within.
One such experience of this we all know is when we gather at the
death bed of a beloved family member or friend.
At such a moment, most of what we take to be so important in
life drops away into insignificance.
And not unusually, through the depth of sorrow and grief, we
touch something of that which is most real and eternal in human
life. The hours or days that
we stand together at the bedside of the person we love becomes a
dwelling place within which we clarify the meaning of death and the
core of human life. Holy
Week is such a time in our life of faith.
The words of the passion narratives create for those of us to
gather to hear them, a dwelling place within which we are called to
clarify not only the meaning of Jesus’ death but of the death of all
of us whose death he is dying.
The words to which we attend are not a historical narrative
but a sacred abode within which we may clarify not merely the
reality of death but the way through to “life at it truly is,” a
life which is infused, as St. Paul says, with the power of the
resurrection. To become
identified with the death of Jesus Christ is to begin to lead a new
life, the life that comes after the death of the autarchic life we
have created and to which we have, for so long, clung so
tenaciously. As we live
“life as it is”, we, at least at moments, experience the joy and awe
that can only come in the reception of our unique life as an eternal
gift of God to us, the “power of the resurrection”.