Narrow the way

A couple of months into this religious exploration, I was thinking about what an awesome outcome it is for any of us to be alive, and pondering why it seems we so rarely acknowledge this breathtaking fact. Then I stumbled upon something Jesus said that surprised me. He’s giving out his advice, like loving our neighbors and avoiding false prophets, when he says, “Because strait the gate, and narrow the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). He implies that our obligation to make morally responsible decisions stems from the simple fact that we are among the living—despite chances too slim to imagine. And here I thought I had cracked the case of some giant existential mystery. Have Christians known this for centuries?

But just as we come face to face with the wonder of our existence, with the enormous responsibility this honor seems to demand of us and the terror that we’ll likely do nothing to prove ourselves deserving of it, we receive the second half of the one-two punch of the human condition: we realize an end point lurks. I remember being 13 when the idea of death wrapped its long ugly fingers around my neck and choked me—it went from an abstract notion that happened to other people to being something that would happen to me. It was nighttime, and I was lying in bed when this thought entered my mind: someday I will be gone. I felt so permanent. How could this be? I found it preposterous and, then, horrifying. I gathered fistfuls of bedding and kicked wildly at the air. I was throwing a tantrum directed at…what? God?

I’ll still pitch a fit if the notion strikes me just right. I was terrified by death then, and not much has changed.

People tussle with this twin realization—existence, granted and revoked—again and again throughout a lifetime. It might give rise to bouts of shame and fear, two sides of the coin of life, but it is during the teenage years when both aspects are freshly dawned. Is it any wonder that teenagers are such a mess? At that age, you either grow sullen and moody, lashing out at the people you love most, or you become obsessed with the most superficial distractions, the clothes and crushes and any and every materialistic thing. Or, like I did, you swing wildly between these two states of being.

Later, as we get older, we may continue to find ways to divert our attention—the work and the errands and all the STUFF—from the painful truths for long stretches of seemingly happy productivity. But we can’t keep it at bay forever. It seeps back one way or another, either turned inward as depression and anxiety or outward as bitterness and rage. It may bubble up and over as addictions, bad relationships, or terrible choices. Because, ultimately, what these truths do to us if we do not accept and move past them is make it really hard to love—either ourselves or whatever force brought us here and will eventually snatch us away.

It occurs to me that perhaps this is the main goal of religion—to help us look at and accept the difficult aspects of the human condition so that we can learn to embrace the joyful ones. Without this, how can we properly love others?

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60 thoughts on “Narrow the way

  1. Just a suggestion that you use a better translation of the Bible than King James. The dated language as well as every verse being a new paragraph does not make understanding passages very easy. I am enjoying your journey. I was very conservative, absolutist one time, now more agnostic. Things are not black and white!

    • Hi Meg, Thanks for your comment and for reading and being here. I jumped around wildly between various translations with little ryhme or reason. Mostly I didn’t know the difference. I downloaded an app on my iPhone that would search just about any translation you could think of (more on that later), but the one I have in print is the New Revised Standard Edition. Is there a translation you prefer?

      • New Revised Standard Version is good. New International Version and New Living Translation is also good. They use a translation method called “dynamic equivalence” which means they are translating the meaning of words and phrases. That is, sometimes a single word may be translated by a phrase if there is no clear English word to convey the meaning. This makes them easier to read and understand. King James and New American Standard use a more literal word to word translation that can make some phrases awkward in modern English, but makes them easier to use when comparing them to the original Hebrew or Greek text. All translations have strengths and weaknesses because it is impossible to get the underlying meaning sometimes in a one-to-one method. For this reason a good “study” Bible can be helpful. It contains notes to help highlight any textual or theological issues. My favorite is the NIV Study Bible. Hope this helps.

        • I second what Mark says here….I spent years looking for the “perfect” version….it doesn’t exist. However, I’ve realized that the different versions are translated by people who love God, who have devoted much of their lives to translation, and who have studied the Greek, Hebrew, and other languages. There are also a lot of commentaries written by various scholars…but I’ve often found that the best commentaries are simply other translations.

  2. Life,,,from the begining, in the Garden of Eden…is all about choices we make…the good ones and the bad ones…as well as learning from the choices made by friends, relatives, others…good and bad…and building our lives and character based on what we learn. Some learn and some don’t. The scriptures, Old and New testament, read and understood from an early age chronicle the choices, good and bad, of many who have gone before us. If we learn from those mistakes and correct choices, it can save us much grief. But many homes don’t even have a Bible. Now religion isn’t allowed in the schools. Government abhors acts of faith. One of the basic premises of Christianity is to follow the model shown by Christ as a righteous life. He showed us what “good looks like”. Straight the gate and narrow the path…because it is hidden from view….scripture tells us…My people perish from lack of vision. Without plenty of role models to show the young what good looks like, we are doomed to learn the hard way…blindly crashing through life…one disaster after another…discouragement abounds and eats us alive one year at a time…and then our lives end…cheated of the abundant happy fulfillment we can find in the pages of that book…the Bible. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you! Good luck in your journey…but take the shortcut soon….it’s in those pages…it’s inspired…from the pulpit…not so much!!!

  3. Corinna, at first I read your essay with a sense of gloom and doom and then busted out laughing when the adage hit my mind: “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” My first experience with death was at the age of 3. My father’s family was notified that his mother was dying at home. All the family of sons and daughters gathered in a small and dreary New England farm house on a gray and rainy winter day. My father was holding me as we looked into a tiny bedroom door and saw by grandmother sitting up on the edge of the bed breathing heavily. Her two teenage daughters were holding her up. Finally she breathed her last and fell back on the bed. The youngest daughter started crying out: “I couldn’t hold her up any more.” and believed for years that she was guilty and filled with shame. Everyone started crying including me. My mother told my father to take me to her mother’s house a short distance away. The scene has been with me my whole life. Many years later I had an opportunity to meet this young Aunt and ask her if my memory was correct. “yes”, she said, “and I have carried it with me all my life.” Everyone who was in that room that day,. with the exception of my mom who is now 95 and me, has died. I like these words from Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron: “We’re able to stay present with impermanence and death and with even the most frightening and humiliating moments of life. We’re no longer looking for an ideal world. In the middle of the charnel ground, in the midst of the mandala of our life, we can finally contemplate groundlessness, impermanence, old age, sickness,and death, and be at east with the thought, “This is just how it is. My old shirt won’t last forever, and neither will I.”

  4. Your essay reminds me of a biblical passage in Matthew 19:24 “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” I have heard it said we must pass our human consciousness through that eye of a needle to put on the mind of Christ: 1 Corinthians 2:16 “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”

    In ancient times the poet Homer’s writings was considered wisdom books. Whole communities would memorize The Odyssey in an oral tradition. As their youth became adults, it was well known that twelve years old began life’s cycles of initiation, twelve years in number up the stairway to immortality and repeated until death. So they believed Odysseus was traveling through a twelve year cycle of being stripped, Stripped of his outer human consciousness and his attachments to the world. By memorizing The Odysey, it built material in the unconscious to ponder. As life’s initiations were presented, those wisdom lessons of Odysseus would play out in the mind and allow the individual to cut the Gordian Knot, hopefully passing to a higher rung on the ladder of initiation of life. The way became narrower though the gates of heaven.

    With the Mosaic period and Moses Ten Commandments we see this oral tradition fade into the night. In High School I used to jog while chanting Ephesians 6:11, “put on the full armor of God lest we stand firm against the schemes of the devil”. I did not really like memorizing scripture, and my family was not firm enough to help me with this luxury given to the spiritually wise.

    I believe the Armageddon we read in Revelation is truly that battle within and from without. The battle within is the first battle to win as seen in Romans 7:23, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.“ The second battle, once an individual has internal integrity, is written about in 1 Corinthians 6:3-5 “Know you not that we shall judge angels?” Ephesians 6:12 says, “For wee wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

    We are a blessed country! The first battle won against tyranny was the battle of the I AM Race, won as the American Revolution. The next battle was the civil war, an internal battle. The final battle is the Coming Revolution in Human Consciousness! We will find perfect peace once the battle is won within and without and we have that mind which was within Christ Jesus!

    • Well said J. Michael. I guess I’ll never understand why so many must buy into the idea that they are sinners. Regardless of any disdain for Catholicism all subsequent church folks of whatever “Christian” sect make their living off the same idea. Sad stuff, to me but if they feel better for it as if some internal war has been fought and they have come off victorious I can be happy for them.

  5. Hi Corinna: I’m going to ask for a bit of clarification. I read your comments on Matthew 7:14 and understand you saying that the slim chances of us being born into this life obligate us to make moral choices. Is that correct understanding? I would agree with Meg who recommended you read a new translation. I would recommend the New International Version or the New Living Translation. Cheap editions are readily available. Another point to be made (again, if I understood you correctly) is to look at the overall context of what Jesus said. The Bible is certainly a sacred book–but it is still meant to be read like most other communication, unless language does not mean what it says.
    My understanding of what Jesus was saying here has to do with the importance of finding the right way to life in the Kingdom of God–and most people really do miss it.
    With that said, your point about death is well said. We really don’t want to go there, but life just seems to have a way of forcing us to pay attention to limit on our mortality. I too was vaguely aware as a child when aunts or uncles died (“passed away”) and my parents went away to the funeral–while keeping me and my brother in the dark. But when I was 13, my Scoutmaster was killed in a car accident along with his 3-yr-old daughter: death broke into my world in a way that I’ll not soon forget, and just now coming to understand its impact. Two weeks later, my dad died of a cerebral hemorrhage, and turned my world upside down and my expectations of getting to know my dad in ways that teen boys can (and my friends did) came crashing around me. When I at last came face to face with death in Vietnam (and nearly died myself), it really did make me angry–and convinced that that is probably all that I would deserve from the hand of the “hound of heaven”. That I even lived through the process of being evacuated from the battlefield, and four days later safely got onto a plane for the hospital in Japan after a rocket attack as I was being unloaded from an ambulance–that’s when I was truly honest and asked whether I believed in God and wondered if Jesus was not just some cosmic Santa Claus. However, there was a good outcome to this 2×4 upside my head–I began to honestly look into the claims of Jesus and the resurrection and the evidences for it. My own zigzag journey to “get some” started there; knowing God and knowing I am loved–that my Father even delights in me–has enabled me to love others. I’m not anxious to die (I’m asking for another 20-25 years on this dirt), but whenever it comes, I will see him face to face and wake up (as C.S. Lewis once wrote) to find that–in spite of questions and occasional doubts–it’s all true! Death will be swallowed up!

    • Walt–
      Your story is powerful. Thanks for sharing. And I want to agree with your perspective on Matt. 7:14. Since “the Kingdom of God” is a difficult term in our modern era, I would equate it to “eternal life” as John seems to do in his Gospel. In other words, Jesus is saying that it is difficult to find the way into eternal life [that is, life in God's Kingdom].

      • Mark,

        When you discuss the “Kingdom of God” referring to eternal life, I think it worthy to consider the moment with Jesus took Peter, James and John apart and was transfigured before them. We can further contemplate the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark:

        “And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Mark 9:1

        It think it very rational and appropriate to assume the “Kingdom of God” be the consciousnesses of God transfigured within our own temple. We then walk with the Holy Spirit on earth as it is in heaven!

        Jesus said, “My father worketh hitherto, and I Work.”

        and so when Jesus said

        “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” John 5:30

        I believe it means we can do works under submission to the Father with the FULL Mind of Christ (or at least an approximation to an asymptote)!

        “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” John 14:12

      • Hi Mark, I understand that my interpretation of Jesus’s words or sentiment in Matt. 7:14 is not necessarily what others have interpreted or learned that it means. However, I can’t help but read those words or that sentiment as a reference to this life…this life we’re in. I see that others have understood it to mean it’s hard to get to the best possible afterlife, and few will make it, but when I read that passage, I understand it completely differently. I feel like it is telling us to understand how amazingly precious our lives are, every last one of us. But that’s just me…and, as you know, I’ve had absolutely no training in these matters.

        • I agree. Eternal life is not meant to be lived only in the future. The whole point of Jesus is that we can enter it now. Eternal life is to be understood as a “quality” of life–something we should seek to enter into today, not wait for some time in the future. It does have impact on our future, but let us not ignore that it should change our lives in the now. This tension has been called by theologians the “now-and-not-yet” dynamic of the Kingdom–it is to be entered and experienced now, and yet there are aspects that we anticipate in the future. Hope this clarifies my point and doesn’t just muddy the waters.

          • Mark,

            The ideas you express are most-commonly associated with ‘gnostics’, a common variety of Christianity that other factions tried to suppress (and were successful, becoming the orthodoxy in the process). The vestiges of Eastern influence (via Zoroasterian beliefs) persist in Christianity, which results from a process called ‘syncretism’, where belief systems become intermingled.

            Most modern-day Christians have NO idea that the reason some of Jesus’ words seems Buddhist is because there WAS significant flow of ideas from India for a few hundred years BEFORE Jesus was born, and are shocked to learn that “do unto others” existed as a saying 500 yrs before Christ was born! Jesus was a PRODUCT of Eastern thought as well as Judaism, taking some of his best lines from others.

            Prof Thomas McEvilley wrote a book on the topic of the inter-connections between Greek and Indian thought from 6th century BC. apparent in both art and literature:

            His book is called “the Shape of Ancient Thought”, and it’s fascinating reading.

        • Hi Corinna,

          You likely are making a mistake by imposing your modern World view onto words written in a foreign culture, 2,000 yrs ago. In other words, our scientific understanding of the biological processes of life means modern men fully understand the sheer improbability of any one sperm meeting the egg, and surviving the 9 month process of embryogenesis/gestation to form into a viable baby; that wasn’t known until the recent past, and your interpretation of the passage relies on that underlying knowledge.

          Fact is, Jesus understood human biology based on the common knowledge of the period in which he lived. Most obvious example is that most uneducated at that period believed humans carried out cognition (thinking) in our hearts, and NOT the brains: this concept was based on long-standing older Egyptian beliefs of those physicians who prepared mummies (who carefully preserved the torso organs in jars, thinking they’d be needed by deceased in the afterlife; they discarded the brain as only so much unnecessary baggage. Ooops……). Hence Jesus’ many references to the “thoughts of the heart” were read as literal truths, and NOT as figures of speech. It’s only with passage of time that we excuse the error as a figure of speech: that’s how strong denial can be.

          Fact is, a review of ancient anatomical beliefs of Greeks and Egyptians reveals MANY examples of anatomical/physiological ignorance, and the Hebrews went with the best-known understanding when writing the Torah, when the best-known science of the day WAS wrong.

          Instead, using a literary-based contextual analysis of the Bible passages indicates that whenever Jesus was referring to ‘life’, it would likely only be in the context which is referenced elsewhere: the Christian belief of salvation/resurrection. In other words, it would be giving Jesus’ words credit for insight which isn’t really warranted based on the evidence.

          • Hi Dave: While true that the ancients didn’t understand the function of the brain and attributed thought to the heart, Jesus’ point (and consistent throughout Scripture) is that references to “heart” generally refer to motivation, no matter what the physical origin. I anticipate that Mark will answer about being a Gnostic, which I don’t believe is how he would view himself.

            • Problem is, there’s tons of similar examples of anatomical ignorance peppered throughout both the Old and New Testament (eg ALL cognitive processes were thought to be carried out in torso organs, eg lungs, liver, etc. In fact, the two kidneys were thought of as the decision-making organs of man (think of the cartoonish concept of good vs bad spirits standing on one’s shoulders when debating a decision: the concept stems from ancient beliefs about the role of the kidneys; hence animal kidneys were prized in Hebraic sacrificial practices as “guilt offerings”, using the animals’ as a proxy for the penitent).

              Certainly YHWH, the one who supposedly created humans, wouldn’t possess the incorrect anatomical knowledge of an ancient Egyptian physician, and similarly Jesus would know the truth that any modern schoolboy knows? In fact, anywhere the Bible talks of science, it’s invariably wrong, reflecting ancient beliefs.

              All any person needs to study to ascertain the errancy of God’s word is learn about ancient beliefs, and realize the Tanakh is based on such ignorance, not divine “Truths”.

              Anyone interested in looking at beliefs of ancient men is encouraged to read RB Orians classic work, “Origins of European Thought about the body, the mind, the soul, time, and fate”. It is a scholarly work looking at how the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Romans, etc conceived of their world, and themselves. If you want to understand ANYTHING written in history (and that includes the Bible, as well as Plato, Homer’s Odyssey, etc), you have to be willing to try to understand the context in which it was written.

              Unfortunately, most modern readers are lazy and/or afraid to do so, preferring to substitute their religious faith for true efforts at understanding.

          • Hi Dave, I appreciate what you are saying here. I guess two things come to me as I think about this topic. First, I’m not sure I can accurately judge how sophisticated some ancients were in their understanding of certain things. I get that they didn’t have the same kinds of scientific understanding we have today, but part of me wonders if perhaps they weren’t more intuitive than we can know. So, they might not have known exactly how or why subject A or B did what it did, but still understood what was going on on a more instinctual level. Also, I wonder if we aren’t meant to see the bits of wisdom through the lens of new understanding. If some truths are universal, I think they might be applicable regardless of time and differences in understanding. Perhaps they are grasped and communicated by us in slightly new ways, but they speak the same truth. I don’t know…those are just a few random thoughts I’ve been mulling over inspired by your comments.

            • Hi Corinna,

              To your 1st point, moderns tend to romanticize ancient knowledge (just as some believe “the myth of the noble savage”), as if the older the knowledge, the better it is. Of course, that’s a questionable bias to adopt, eg we accepted a heliocentric-based Solar system on evidence for thousands of years, until Copernicus and Galileo fought battles with those (namely, the Roman Catholic Church) who wanted to keep an Earth-centered Universe based on theological TRADITION from the Bible. And that’s generally the problem with theology: it tends to stunt progress, and forces “true believers” to ignore and sacrifice available evidence in the name of their faith in Jesus.

              There are questions that are unanswerable paradoxes which philosophers both before and after Jesus have wrestled with, and to think these questions are resolvable with scientific knowledge is questionable. Although, interestingly some of these questions which seemed so important in the past now seem silly after learning the nature of reality, eg Socrates believed in the soul, and wrestled with what happens when we die. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence on which to BELIEVE in the existence of souls (just like most of us don’t believe in fairies or Santa Claus, either), other than the fact that ancient men have believed it in the past, AKA TRADITION.

              If you’re curious about the Bible, I’d strongly recommend you start with reading Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus, Interrupted”, a book that concisely points out all the thorny problems with the Bible, written by someone who is a highly-regarded scholar of the New Testament. I’d dare say over 95% of people who identify themselves as Christians are not even remotely aware of the factors which have shaped what they believe.

              As far as translations, if you’re a newbie to Biblical theology, it almost doesn’t matter which you pick. Some translations address the problematic theological issues that Dr Ehrman discusses in his book by choosing slightly different wording that can dramatically change the meaning. But if you’re reading for a “feel good” experience, pick whatever floats your boat.

              That stated, there’s no reason nowadays to choose only ONE: I tend to use online parallel translations like http://bible.cc , as it’s interesting to see which ones diverge from the others, and then to ask WHY they do.

    • Walt, I appreciate your life, your story, thanks so much for telling us this part! I too believe that after death I’ll be with God. I’m just not sure there’s a “right way”, because that would mean all the other ways are “wrong ways”. I believe anyone who wants to find God, will. Anyone who wants to live forever with God, will. We may find that “narrow gate” was really wide after all, wide enough for every soul who asked, sought, knocked. It’s in the seeking that we are found by the one who loved us our whole lives long.
      Shelley

    • Hi Walt, Wow, what a story of survival. Thank you for sharing. I realize my interpretation of Jesus’ words or sentiment in Matt. 7:14 is not the standard interpretation, but that is how I read and understand that passage. I think we are meant to grasp how miraculous our lives are, how fantastic it is that we made it here. But that’s just how I read it, and I’m not claiming it’s “right.” How’s your blog coming? Please put a link here when you’re ready.

      • no worries about who’s right about “life”…it’s actually both, as Mark was mentioning (a tension between now and not yet). Too many Christians are concerned about “going to heaven” and escaping from it (in the rapture, etc.) that they don’t pay much attention to what it means to live now in this world. This world is, after all, the original place in which God made us to live. (My understanding, when Revelation mentions a “new heavens and new earth”, is that it refers to the place we will live in after the return of Jesus). Rather mundane, I know. Heaven, I do not believe, will be about sitting around on a cloud strumming harps (and maybe wishing we’d brought a magazine along to read!). If all this stuff is real, it will be far from boring! C.S. Lewis, late Oxford don, certified smart guy, inventor of Narnia, and one-time atheist, has referred to our life here as living in the “shadowlands”–shadows of a more perfect time to come. There are things that aren’t so critical for us to understand perfectly now. Paul the apostle mentioned how God will give us understanding later on. Jesus was constantly facing off with the religious leaders of Israel, who were distorting the path that God intended for people to follow: they kept adding impossible demands and rules. Jesus instead invited us to take his yoke (i.e., get into the yoke with him and let him teach us), for his “yoke is easy and the burden is light.”
        My blog is coming along. I’ve had more technical problems than anything, but it’s basically in place. I have a couple posts finalized and I am working on a couple rough drafts just to have stuff in place–fright insurance, I suppose….

  6. Thanks, Frank, for your comments! I want to correct something. My wife pointed out I really meant to say in my last paragraph that the final battle is the Coming Revolution in Higher Consciousness! A a weed of human consciousness was rearing its head as a stone to be rooted out of my unconscious by the purifying fires of the Holy Spirit. I will make the call to Jesus for it’s purging!

    As Jesus said, be sinless: John 8:11 “go, and sin no more”.

  7. Walt,

    You quoted Corinna ” the slim chances of us being born into this life obligate us to make moral choices. Is that correct understanding?”.

    Could it be the mind of Christ unbeknownst to her, peaking through her writings even as Nostradamus has his stanzas?

    I have heard it said that U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Chief Justice Roberts has a strategy for overturning of Roe v. Wade. That the the affirmative justices may be instruments of divine justice, providing a more assured way that those who seek entrance into these octaves may find it NOT a “slim chance of being born!”

    “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” –Deuteronomy 30:19

    • I was simply seeking clarification….I think Corinna has said a number of things that she may not fully understand–simply because she is searching for truth and writing about what is jumping out at her. Paul the apostle wrote about the Old Testament prophets who wrote about the time that Jesus would come into the world–and yet they felt they didn’t really understand it and longed to look and see clearly….as we all do.

      • Walt,

        You wrote: “the time that Jesus would come into the world–and yet they felt they didn’t really understand ”

        I believe The Book of Revelation spells out that Jesus will return into our own temple as the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. According to our own book of life and timetables. And we might have a new heaven and a new earth in own own body temple. So we better take care of it our body temple.

        Dr. Lustig’s Youtube video on Sugar as a toxin is very important! And No eating pork as there s a very good reason. Pig is the most generically close to the human genome for a very good reason that goes back to the time of “Noah’s Flood” and the seed of humans mixed with animals. Fact is stranger than fiction!

        On the other hand, one will be taken and the other left in the field. So we have more than one way to throw off our mortal coils and jump into immortality! Be Sinless, hit the target dead center!

        As you know, the truth of God’s mysteries are abundantly exciting!

  8. Corinna, a couple of weeks ago in response to your post “After the Other,” I posed an inquiry to you: “What is it, really, that you are seeking?” You didn’t answer me at that time; perhaps you weren’t certain. Today, however, you gave me a clear glimpse of one of your present realities: you fear your own morality in ways that were really rather painful to read. As Frank Maitosa said, your essay was filled with ‘gloom and doom.’ And since you can’t run and hide from your death, it seems better that you might make peace with the whole concept.

    I speak about this business of mortality as somewhat of an authority: I lost both of my parents when I was 33; I have lost all three of my living grandparents,and a variety of aunts, uncles,and cousins; a father-in-law; at least four students during my career in education; two very good friends in the past two years; and, perhaps, the most difficult loss, my husband and best friend of 27 years. I do not tell you this to elicit sympathy. I say it because those losses have made me a stronger person, a person who is not interested in living the remainder of my life in a purposeless way. And as I will be 68 next week, I would say that I have a certain wisdom in this arena. I have come to be comfortable with the idea that you are born, you live, and you die. I do not personally believe in an afterlife, so what I have here on earth is especially essential to me.

    I do not understand all of the replies to you that are filled with scripture, King James or otherwise. I assume that they are meaningful to those who are writing them. But what I would like to do is to give you some simple, straight-forward wisdom: Broaden your search for meaning…..turn part of your search inward and see if you can’t calm those anxieties by coming to grips with the inevitable. I personally have distilled what is important to me in my own life….and whether you call it a Life’s Purpose or something else, it drives my choices and how I spend my time in a way that I do not feel like I am frittering away my days, my energy, even though I am retired for 9 years, I presently am focusing on mindfulness, compassion, and gratitude as driving forces. But you will find your own if you focus on what is important to you. My Minister follows these 4 ideas: 1. Show up/ Be present. 2. Listen deeply. 3. Speak your own truth. And the hardest one: 4. Let go. Whatever you do, find the life you want to lead and live it!

    I often feel like mortality is sitting on my patio sipping lemonade….or having tea in my dining room. I think that we have become friends. I do not fear her…..mind you, I am not really interested in dying…..nor am I feeling particularly ready as I still have things I want to do….but she and I do have an understanding. And she is not pounding on my door or tapping her foot anymore! I would suggest that YOU might want to invite her to tea….or if that is too scary, write her a letter….or several letters. Tell her what makes death such a painful concept for you….talk to her. In the end, of course, there is no bargaining, so pitching a fit won’t really accomplish anything….nor will having a quick way with words. But in the end, it might relieve some of your fear and anxiety if you face her in a personal way.

    You certainly may find help in your search for peace from organized religious groups. But, you know, even they can’t save you from the inevitability of death, although they do offer the belief that this life is not the end. If that makes you feel safer, continue with your inventory of churches until you find one that fits. And then jump in an participate fully.

    Above all, behave joyfully. It will fool everyone, including yourself! And It is contagious!

    Take care. Merrill

    • Hi Merrill, Ah, such wisdom! I love it. And that is exactly what I am looking for in this search. I feel like so much of life wisdom is contained in religion, and not just holy books but also the dialogue around religion that’s been on-going for a long, long time. As a None, I felt I didn’t have knowledge of any of this wisdom. I realized I might go through life having missed out on it completely if I didn’t take a proactive approach. So, here we are today, and I’m glad you’re here with me.

    • I like this entry! I am painstakingly making my way through previous blogs (having just found this site last week!) and find the replies that quote scripture (the lengthy ones!) to be tedious and pedantic. Although I can appreciate the intelligent discourse – and admire the writer’s skill – not many of the points cause me to think, “I see what you’re trying to say here!” I can identify with your belief of no afterlife. Although I can see how many people really WANT to believe that, it just seems to me that THIS is the life we all need to be concentrating on. You sound like someone I’d love to meet! But then again, so do many of the others on here. . .regardless of whether or not I agree with them.

      • Your thoughts remind me of a fun lady minister I knew name Rev. Terry Cole-Whittaker. She used to say: “Are you wondering how your life is going to turn out?? This is it.” and, “For those of you who believe in reincarnation, THIS IS THE LIFE YOU’VE BEEN DYING TO LIVE.” Of course her encouragement was to live one’s life in the now..

  9. Walt, thank you so much for sharing your story. It shows God’s power to carry us through. Also, so many other great comments here. Here’s another story.

    In antiquity when a nation conquered another nation they would subdue it in a variety of ways. Babylon’s way of conquering was to deport citizens; change their language and diet; and take the most educated, skilled, and youthful citizens and incorporate them into the Babylonian empire. In this way their religion and beliefs as a people would be crushed. This is exactly what Babylon did to Israel.

    Nations establish a name in history not through power, per se, but primarily by its arts, literature, and education. So the King of Babylon made a ninety foot golden statue and all the people who lived there, whether natives or foreigners, were commanded to bow and worship the statue. The command stated, “Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” And all bowed and worshiped.

    But some went to the king and informed on the Jews because they refused to bow down. They reported that three men — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — paid no attention to the king and refused to serve his gods and did not worship the gold statue. King Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and confronted them, “Is it true that you refuse to serve my gods and worship the statue I have set up? Now if you are ready to bow down and worship the statue all is well and good. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

    The three replied, “Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

    Nebuchadnezzar’s face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. He ordered that they be bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. And it was done. So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.

    But suddenly, the king jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace? Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” Then Nebuchadnezzar shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So they stepped out of the fire.

    Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

    The narrow way is how these three men lived. Despite cultural pressure to do otherwise, to serve other things and economies and gods created by humans, they kept their God front and center, fully devoting their lives to Him, live or die. The narrow way has little to do with religion and everything to do with faith and trust in God.

    Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake . .. will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

    That’s the narrow way.

    • After 70 years of captivity the Jews and others were released to return to their homeland. After 70 years in captivity many of the original Jews had died and their children had intermarried with the Babylonians. They hardly remembered their history. In order to assist the Jews to have a sense of who they were and give them a sense of their own history the elders who remembered put together what they remembered along with whatever scraps of papyrus information they may have had. There in Babylon was where they began to put together a history and wrote the first books of the Torah. They ascribed the writing to Moses and others because they knew that Moses had a respected name in the story telling which would inspire these Jews to read it and believe it. They wrote their own understanding of a creation account, the setting up of laws and the story of a homeland promised by God. Some of it incorporated stories such as the creation account and the great flood from myths written into the stories of other ancient peoples.

      • Hi Frank….As someone mentioned to you before, I don’t think you’re reading the same Bible as I am–or the Jews, for that matter. Not sure what your sources are on this. By the way, I checked on debates between Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright. They’re all over the internet, in blogs, and in books they’ve both written. If you’re interested, there’s no shortage of material.

      • I have become very sad while reading many of these comments. So many people think that the accounts in the Bible are just stories and myths. 2 Timothy 3:16a All Scripture is God-breathed. The Bible came from God through the men who wrote it. God superintendes these human authors so that, using their individual personalities, they composed and recorded, WITHOUT error, God’s Word to man. There is so much evidence out there to support the Bible. I think that people are afraid to find the truth and discover that they’ve been wrong. Look up Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis to find evidence of a flood.

        • Your broad judgment about those of us who may consider Bible stories as myths and therefore not having respect for truth, is wrong. I get a great deal from reading the Bible and have read it completely a couple of times and many verses and stories hundreds of time but my approach is to look for “truth in story”. Every story told and every parable of Jesus and every statement of Paul contains a “truth in story”. It doesn’t matter whether or not I believe the story of the sun standing still all day, or Jacob’s battle with an angel or Jesus turning water to wine is true. What I do know is that each story contains a truth and I look for that as opposed to simply accepting the tale itself as true. If more people, including Christians, could look at the Bible in that manner it would do away with all the continue arguing over interpretations which create divisions.

          • When Clergy or (authority figures) insist that the Bible is the literal word of God it certainly for the innocence of the child appears to be like “the Emperor has not clothes”. This condition forces an individual to do one of two things: 1.) create a cutting off of truth coming from their inner voice of connection to the Comforter (Holy Spirit) and submitting to an outer authority 2.) stick with their inner voice coming from their own connection to source.

            This might be setting the stage for following Jesus Pisces Age footsteps into Crucifixion with his disciples?

          • How can one pick and choose what they believe to be true in the Bible? If only part of it is true, which part is that? Should one choose to believe in what will make them feel warm and cozy or should they believe the parts that say we’re all sinners headed for the lake of fire apart from Jesus Christ? It’s only logical to me that you either believe that the whole Bible is true or that it’s all just myths and stories. I would think that believing that only part of the Bible is true would cause more arguing and division because people would be arguing over which parts were true and which parts were myths.

            • Jo L, Does it matter if we believe the bible is literally, entirely true or not– as long as we keep the commandments and follow Jesus covenant to both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law? Given we believe the bible literally, does that help us draw the Comforter neigh to us and help us become filled with Holy Spirit? If so, I’m all for literal interpretation!

              • Jeffrey, It absolutely matters. An inaccurate Bible contradicts God’s character quality of absolute truthfulness. Titus 1:2—“God who cannot lie.”
                Hebrews 6:18—“It is impossible for God to lie.”
                Some consider this a minor issue, but the idea that the Bible contains errors opens the door to serious spiritual danger. When people decide they have the authority to label one verse as a mistake, they soon find others that they put in the “error” category. People sometimes point out that our view of the Bible doesn’t really matter. As long as we gain strength and insights from it, that is enough. Following this line of reasoning, they remove many miracles of the Bibles or simply treat them as myths. This is a mistake, particularly when it comes to the Resurrection of Christ. Our view of the Bible matters immensely, especially if what it claims is indeed true. If it is, then our eternal destiny hinges on how we will respond to Christ and His calling. It is not enough to simply try to follow the law and the commandments. Works won’t get you to Heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” I would encourage you to visit the following website for evidence of the Bible being true. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/03/22/bible-is-true

                  • I’ve pondered your comment here. I think sometimes we have good points and get stuck. My six year old gets stuck and I have a power struggle with her until I try every way to understand her point. So more than you say about “mind locked up”. I’ve been accused of that very problem. Like the battle between Henry the VIII and Thomas Moore, I think I’ve tried to stand my ground on principle– deadlocked almost unto death (of a conception of myself).

                    Then, I studied Sun Tzu’s, “Art of War and Lao Tzu’s, “Tao Te Ching” to help me mellow out. Dr. Wayne Dyer is a generally not where I am focused in Religion. But I do like his version of The Tao: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tbh0DW6RhCs.

                    • BTW, Frank. I do think Saint Thomas Moore did the right thing standing up to Henry the VIII on the principle of loyalty to God First. I do think God calls us to those extreme tests. I cannot conceptualize having a test unto death in this life. But I believe were are not given more than we can handle.

                  • Frank, yes, I would agree without shame that my mind is “locked up” on the issue of the Bible being completely true and without error. It is the very basis for everything that I believe in. I guess that if it’s not true, then I have nothing to loose in the end because everyone will be headed to the same place. However, if it is all true, as I believe, then those who don’t believe have everything to loose. Please realize that I am not intending to be judgemental. There will be many people in Heaven who do not believe exactly the same way that I do. One’s salvation is between them and Jesus Christ. God is the ultimate judge and that’s all that matters in the end.

                • Jo L, I see your point shining through. I remember a Presbyterian Pastor of my 7,000 member childhood church of “blue bloods” (financially). He fashioned God into his own making. For example, the pastor tried tell me Jesus inner teaching to his disciples was a legend– among other parts. For me, I knew he was a self-deceived. Why? Because I found the answers to questions he discounted as legend!

                  So I completely respect your perspective. I see your logic based on my own experience!

        • Interesting phrase there, “God-breathed”.

          You DO understand that ancient pre-literate men actually believed that words literally passed through the air from one speaker to the listeners, and entered into their lungs to be received and processed in their hearts (which they thought served in the role of the brain). Of course, modern men know that spoken words cause sound waves to pass thru the air, entering the ear drums to stimulate the cochlear nerves, sending electrical impulses the brain?

          Look at the word, ‘inspired': it still reflects vestiges of that ancient misunderstanding of human anatomy, as the suffix ‘spire’ still refers to lungs (eg respiration, the act of breathing air into the lungs).

          So when ancients said ‘God-breathed’ (or, ‘inspired by God’), ancients literally thought an invisible force (Holy Spirit: again, note the ‘spire’, being used as a prefix) was breathing ideas into their lungs. So when someone says something like, “I’ve been inspired by Holy Spirit”, you have a circular definition in play.

    • From Ginger: “The narrow way has little to do with religion and everything to do with faith and trust in God.” Yes! And I would add “love”. It has everything to do with love — God’s for us, ours for him, ours for each other. If we don’t live in love, we’re a loud meaningless noise.

  10. Hello, Corinna,
    I wrote yesterday about making friends with Mortality, and then when I read your comment to Frank about staring down death, I thought I might come back with some specifics. Actually, I laughed at the idea of attacking this issue is such an adversarial manner. It reminded me of a poem by Billy Collins (“Introduction to Poetry”) about all of the ways one MIGHT understand poetry, but then he ends the poem this way: But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.

    It seems to me that something as mysterious as poetry….or death…….needs to be treated more gently. You know the knots of major proportion that can get into gold chains when they are all tangled in the bottom our boxes of jewelry. They look to be impossible to deal with. But with patience and small, thoughtful moves, it is possible to get them unwound and untangled. So too, it is with such a complicated, emotionally-charged topic such as death and our own mortality Just like you can’t untangle the chain with a hammer, neither can you become comfortable with the idea of mortality by jumping off a cliff to see how death might feel….or by ignoring it altogether. OR by staring it down! Are you following this metaphor…it is certainly more secular than sacred!! Anyway, the point is that accepting our mortality takes courage and patience and some small, but focused steps.

    Here are some ideas that I have used: My friends and I discuss aging and mortality issues often. We all appreciate the predicament we are in and laugh a great deal. Long ago I started a file called “In case of death….” in which I have collected readings and songs for my memorial service and a list of what I have done and what I want to be most remembered for to help with my obituary. Who else would know better what to include for these? I hope it will make it easier for my family to deal with my departure. And finally, my husband and I had frank and open conversations about the possibilities of our deaths. Among other things we discussed was our financial situations, and we made sure that each of us would be OK if the other one died…..since this became a reality, it was a fortuitous choice. I am sure there are other small steps to take…..but each one makes it easier to deal with something that seems so looming.

    I know this is not really in the realm of searching for “religious” meanings, but I am a very pragmatic person, and thought that this wisdom might be as helpful as the Biblical scriptures/knowledge that you have been receiving. Perhaps you already know this practical stuff…..and perhaps you are really only looking for replies from those ” in the know” about Christianity. But I will continue to weigh in from my perspective as I see an opportunity.
    Merrill

    • Yes, Merrill, I have done the same. I don’t want my son and daughter-in-law to have to worry about a thing when I die. I have my cremation paid for, Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney complete and designated the place to throw my ashes. I told them that whether or not they wanted a service was up to them. It feels good to have all of this done. I, too, have been planning my own obituary. I read somewhere, “Death is a useful comma which punctuates, and labors to convince of more to follow.”

    • I have just read a little further down the list of replies and find the poem – you must be an English teacher! I have done this poem with Gr. 9 English students – even students who don’t ‘get’ poetry get this one. Pragmatic – that’s me too!

  11. Corinna,

    Yesterday I enjoyed assimilating a few bible quotes kind in response to your mention of “avoiding false prophets” and what some others have written. I’ve had a little pent up energy coming out on your blog! Sometimes I have a reaction to what I perceive as bible fundamentalism– which is what drove me into the none category a few years back.

    They say in Christianity “we die daily” as we shed the old man and put on the new man. I personally experience this bliss when I become aware of my own behaviors– constructive or wasteful. Sometimes it takes a few layers of the onion to peal away. But by “the grace of God” I make it through to the next level.

    The difference I feel in having the spirit of God with me is that I can change much more quickly than I did without it. The pain sometimes is more intense because the light shines on my error more brightly. But while I’m still in my body I experience the transmutation.

    I hope what I’ve shared in my own uniquely creative way can shed even a single ray of positive wisdom to live better. I’m finding that commenting on your blog is helping me to think though concepts and present truth. And work though my own “X-None” issues too!

    Switching Gears
    I have at times tried to drive to a new destination without a road map and just “wing it”. My inner compass just doesn’t always work in the driver’s seat. And so you can guess I’ll say that having a religion is like having a road map. It certainly helps avoid the pitfalls.

    In addition, I have found that having an ascended Guru like Jesus, Gautama, Mother Mary or any of the other “Saints Robed in White” from the book of Revelation can considerably shorten the journey not only to immortality, but to enlightenment in this lifetime!

    May God exceedingly bless you!

  12. This article speaks to something that I, and I think, all people have struggled with at one point in time. Adolescence was so difficult for me. You’re already dealing with per pressures, a socially driven need to conform to some of those pressures… what people think of you often seems to determine your own self-identity at that age. But then, you confront your mortality. Can there be a worse time in your life? The answer is yes. But that’s another subject.
    I am a man approaching middle-age. But I’ve grown up with a religious background, becoming more agnostic over time. I’ve always been a thinker. Logic and common sense and all that.But the question of religion, and more importantly, is there a God, have always been somewhere in my mind.
    I’ve reached a point now to where I feel that it doesn’t matter. Our behaviors shouldn’t be based on the fact or fallacy of some God (or god) sitting in the clouds and passing judgment on everything we’ve done. It’s the same as being a law abiding citizen. Do you obey the law out of fear of punishment? Or do you obey the law because you agree with most of it, and believe that it’s the right thing to do? As a former Christian, I saw a lot of people “get saved” because they feared going to Hell. These same people, months later, were still vested in their old ways, living the life of sin, drinking, being abusive. In essence, these folks had been scared straight, but that wasn’t enough to change their behaviors. They were like convicts being paroled, and then committing the same crimes over and over again.
    We all fear death. But that is not any reason to embrace something that is supposed to affect massive life changes. Religion (and God) should be embraced because that’s what you BELIEVE. Faith is the basis of religion, not fact. And so morality plays a much more important role in religion.
    I still believe in God. I still fear death. But somewhere in between these two ideas, there has been no motivation for me to embrace religion. I look at death as an end to pain, to be dealt with when that time comes. Otherwise, how can one possibly live a life of joy? And that’s the point. We’re all aware of our impending doom. Regardless of whether God exists or not, we should be loving one another, and trying to live a life of moral character. This is what Jesus was trying to preach all along. That death isn’t so important so long as life is lived with love and character. And a love of God translates into a love of others. REAL love.

  13. The previous comment was accidentally posted before typos were fixed, here is the fixed version.

    What this is really about is trust—unless you’re an atheist or agnostic, or believe God to be something less than human-like (some impersonal force). Trying to impart the belief that you can trust that God cares about you, and will take care of you, is the basis for most religions. If you trust God that is like the best version of ourselves—a caring loving person—then you will become fearless and see yourself as immortal. If you don’t trust that God is a person who cares about you, then you’ll feel anxiety and depression at the thought of death.

    Can you feel immortal? Obviously you can since so many people have full faith in God, and are therefore fearless—because they feel immortal. In fact true happiness cannot be had until you see yourself as immortal, otherwise, unless you are mentally unsound, you will see life through the prism of someone about to die.

    How to attain the feeling of immortality? You need to get closer to God. How do you do that? God does it for you. When it’s your time you will experience the truth of reality, like Neo awakening from the matrix, you will see that the world you think you live in, is in truth a very complex illusion. Instead of The Matrix illusion, which was creating by digital bits and bytes of data in a computer generated virtual reality—our virtual reality is created by quantum bits of matter/data. But the principle if the same—we live inside a manufactured virtual world, fully controlled by an extremely complex information processing machine. And just like the AI (artificial intelligence) computer which ran computer VR in The Matrix was both a machine and a conscious intelligent being—so is our universe.

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
    William Blake

    How can we know “the truth” rather than just hope that the stories or philosophies we hear are true? We live on a timetable, God’s timetable for us. We need to learn so many things in order to handle the gift of eternal life. Don’t despair, God is always with you, teaching you, guiding you, bringing you closer to being able to handle your true destiny. Suffering is necessary for a while as it breeds inner strength in the face of fear. Trusting God takes a certain amount of strength, maybe not in the short term, but over a long period of time (eternity) being able to deal with the reality of our complete dependence on another person (albeit a universal super-being) to take care of us forever, in the most intimate terms, one on one, as lovers and friends, takes a very strong person.

    Our lives here in the illusory matrix world is for that one purpose, to strengthen us, to prepare us for what is to come.

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