A Matter of Life and Death: Which Are We Choosing?

A Matter of Life and Death: Which Are We Choosing? April 11, 2024

A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death

We know something is important when it is a matter of life and death.

Death makes us afraid. Many of us fear our own deaths as well as the deaths of people we love. Death is so complete, so unchangeable, so overwhelming, so final. We struggle to avoid death, even if only for a short time. Death seems like a defeat, a surrender, the loss of everything which is familiar to us.

Surprisingly, many of us appear to take life for granted. We may waste the life we have and not realize what we have done until it is too late to change. It is a challenge for us to seriously consider what we can do to make our lives matter most. Life can be overwhelming for us, too.

The choice between life and death appears to be stark. We have a clear choice with two diametrically opposed options. Most of us want to choose life, though we may not know how.

People talk about loving life and hating death. Even people whose lives are filled with pain or struggle hold onto them as tightly as they can.

I believe in the power of life and death. Life is filled with potential and the possibility of starting over or trying again. As long as we are alive we still have hope. Life means we can still grow and learn and change the way we live our lives.

I also have experience with the power of death. We miss the people we love who have died. Yes, I believe they continue to live in and through us, but I still miss having them around.

There have been times when I was dead to myself and have slowly come to life.

Experiencing Life and Death

It has been less than two years since someone close to me, a woman in my family, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her journey has been challenging. She has had difficult decisions to make, and she invited me to take parts of her journey with her.

There is very little I know about cancer. I have had friends and some other relatives who have battled it. Most of what I have been able to do for her has been listening, asking insightful questions, and laughing and crying with her. It has helped her to have someone she trusts to help her work through what she wants, and does not want, to do.

The cancer in her body has spread to new parts of her. Despite all her hard work and determination, it feels like the cancer is gaining ground.

I have even fewer answers for her than I did a couple of years ago. The best I can do, as far as I can see, is to continue listening and asking questions, laughing and crying.

I pray for her, and I am not the only one.

We pray, listening for God’s love and mercy, asking questions, and laughing and crying. Even when she cannot pray, we hold her in our hearts and in our minds.

Each breath, inhaling and exhaling, is a prayer inviting spiritual life and health into her mind and her body.

There is tremendous healing in our prayers. None of us expect her physical challenges to dissolve. The healing happens deep within us.

It is an amazing privilege to accompany someone as they learn to die well. The experience is a very much like accompanying a person as they learn to live well.

What passes between us each time we talk, even without words, are matters of life and death.

Easter is All About Life and Death

It is easy for those of us who recently celebrated Easter to hide from it. We distract ourselves with fancy clothes or special meals, or even spending hours in church.

Easter, though, is not really about bunnies or eggs or chocolate or sugar. Easter is focused on life and death.

The essential question of Easter is whether people who have been dead can be alive.

We may have died to protect ourselves from what we fear or from other people. Maybe we died to our true selves because we were trying to punish ourselves. We might have died to ourselves because someone else murdered us, or it may have been suicide.

The message of Easter is, even when we believe we have died to our own deepest truths, we can be filled with life.

How we decide to spend our lives is a matter of life and death.

When faced with the death of someone we love, we mourn them and miss them. Their death threatens to overwhelm us and stop us from living. We question why we should continue living when they do not.

Easter exists to spark an understanding in us of why and how we go on living.

Choosing Life and Death

Easter opens a door for us into the world of life and death. While we fear death and see it as the end of our opportunity to live, Easter shows us there is more.

Our days are filled with moments of life and death. It is not about us living the course of our lives until death ends them. Each day is a balance of life and death.

We may experience each day as an opportunity to squeeze out everything it has. I have experienced days filled with moments of potential and possibility. When we recognize the life each day offers us, we could burst into tears. The life a single day delivers to us is greater than we can see with our naked eyes.

We also have the option to spend our days looking for death. Those days drain away the life within us and leave us exhausted.

Each day is a matter of life and death. We choose where and how we will pay attention.

How are we choosing between life and death this week?

What opportunities for life and death will we embrace today?

[Image by archer10 (Dennis)]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is http://StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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