Saturday, June 21, 2014

Death Of A Friend

I lost a dear friend the other day.  Another casualty to the unrelenting ravages of cancer.  It was a spiritual friendship of much depth, even if our chronology was only of a few years – unlike his high school sweetheart and beloved spouse of 50 years.  Longevity can be enviable, but sometimes depth can partially make up for a short calendar.

For some, death is only vaguely foreseen, and strikes suddenly with little preparation or advance notice.  Such a death affects little of one’s daily life up to that moment – hence always “tomorrow.”  For others, death is predictable if not scheduled, and that predictability drives the schedule of their lives – hence never “tomorrow.”  In either case, death ultimately comes to each of us.  And more often than not, it comes about consistent with how we have lived our entire life.  Yet on occasion some follow the path of their death into a U-turn, going in mind and heart to places they never dared venture before.

My friend and I spent many an hour over coffee and bagels exploring the subject of Life, Life’s meaning, and our relationship to God.  And what it means to truly “live with God.”  There were always so many questions to explore, answers to be sought.  But they were never questions about whether God, doubts about God; rather, there were only questions about how to know God.  What God is truly about, and thereby, what we are truly about.

And so this dear friend’s impending death emerged to be just one more question, one more exploration, one more opportunity for understanding.   That his death was certain, and on a short timeline, was never denied.  That many human experiences and special relationships would be lost was also  understood and expected.  But the inevitability that we all face – yet continually deny – was accepted; yes, with sadness, but with little regret.

By embracing his reality, even as he sought to extend it by the drugs and the radiation, greater clarity came.  When death finally does come over that distant hill, parks itself on your front stoop and rings the doorbell, it brings in its briefcase a full serving of clarity.  Clarity about what is truly important in our human life rises to the top, and all the false importances that we have chased for so long settle to the bottom like dirt separating in a water glass.  So we can sip from the clear water on top, and leave the extraneous behind.  In that clarity, time becomes precious, personal interactions become primary, needed words finally get said.

I will miss my friend.  I will miss our conversations.  I will miss the stimulation of thinking, the camaraderie of our shared ongoing search.  All pursued within that Irish passion, smile and good humor.  He will be missed by many others in their own way, from their own experience.  Be well and at peace, my good friend.  Yours was a life worth remembering.  Enjoy all the new answers you are now finding to your so many questions.  Know that in another time and place you will have new questions to be answered; your journey will continue.  But for this moment, be now with God.  In the place where we will all ultimately arrive.

In my memory of Dennis Murphy.  June 19, 2014.
© 2014   Randy Bell

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Other Civilizations

Recently, I opted to sit on my lawn enjoying the expansive view overlooking the valley below, intent on allowing myself a rare moment in quiet contemplation.  It was one of those early summer days of warm sun yet cooling breeze that are delightful to enjoy in this special mountain setting.

Sitting in my chair, lost in my scattered thoughts, I was distracted by small movement at my feet.  Looking down, I noticed some kind of bug moving through the grass, working its way determinedly around my feet.  Given my complete lack of knowledge about the insect world, I had no idea of the scientific label of this small creature.  Hence the generic “bug” would have to do.  As I continued to watch, it became clear that this bug had a very purposeful objective in its mind, a task to be done, a mission to complete.  This was not just a bug’s time off for a recreational stroll.

Then I noticed other movements out of the corner of my eye.  A grasshopper now jumping through the grass, pausing, followed by another quick jump.  An ant crawling through the increasingly busy terrain, crossing paths with a good-sized spider – but not one so good-sized as to send me scrambling to safety in the face of a dime-sized potential assassin.

Similarly others continued to come, the territory below me becoming a bustling traffic intersection of many species.  A miniature society normally invisible to our eyes, but today teeming with the busy doing of Life, all in harmony with, and unthreatening to, each other.  An organized, complex society we pay little attention to – except to squash when it invades “our” territory.

Yet noticing all that movement below me, and thinking about the bird building its nest on our porch to hold its reproductive eggs, and the bees and hummingbirds drinking from the well of our brightly-colored flowers, served to remind me of how little we think about the full scope of God’s creative output.  Most of our time, we look around and see, and think only about, human beings – ourselves and others.  As if we are the only thing of importance on the earth, the center of all attention, the only “life” going on here.  But if we ever indulge the luxury of time spent truly looking at what all surrounds us, we create a fresh opportunity for our humility to arise.

How often has Man, to whom was given “dominion over the fish … the fowl … the cattle … all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon it,” interpreted that dominion to mean “ownership,” seemingly bordering on the unrestricted master/slave plantation mentality of so long ago where living “possessions” were used however one pleased.  Rather than accept the responsibility of “stewardship” to protect and help manage all of these more humble gifts of God’s total creation entrusted to us.  By scriptural tradition, human beings were the last item on God’s creation checklist; other outputs were more important to do first, and were necessary to allow for the creation and sustaining of human beings.

We ignore the very real existence of dirt, rocks, trees, plants, and yes, the bugs, all nourished by the sunlight, oxygen and rain that gives them life.  We presume our superiority as humans as though we are the only meaningful creation, the center around which the Universe revolves – as erroneous as those ancestors who believed that the life-giving sun revolved around its child Earth.  Every creation of God breathes, feels, knows fear and safety, and lives and dies.  Because every creation of God is just one of infinite transformations of cell forms that breathes, feels, knows fear and safety, and lives and dies.

The deer and the mosquito remind us of the importance of our relative unimportance.  That Life is not just about us.  Life is about knowing the unknowable, incomprehensible vastness of the Universe, into which we are inescapably interdependent and connected.

© 2014   Randy Bell