Saturday, 24 March 2012

Open to death

Reflecting on a verse from tomorrow’s Gospel reading:
‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’
John 12:24
I remember a powerful account of what this might mean from David Ford’s book The Shape of Living. Ford writes:
Jesus taught and demonstrated  an alternative which above all centred on desiring God and the kingdom of God. The stakes were as high as could be, and he knew well that the ultimate stake is life itself. This meant facing death. p.39
etty hillesumFord goes on to quote a letter from the Dutch Jewish woman Etty Hillesum, who left some letters and a diary behind from the months before being sent to Auschwitz where she died. Hillesum focused on what really mattered in life in the face of death.
People here fritter their energy away on the thousand irksome details that grind us down every day; they lose themselves in detail and drown. That’s why they get driven off course and find existence pointless. The few big things that matter in life are what we have to keep in mind; the rest can be quietly abandoned. And you can find those few big things anywhere, you have t keep rediscovering them in yourself so that you can be renewed. And in spite of everything you always end up with the same conviction: life is good after all… And that’s what stays with me, even now, even when I’m about to be packed off to Poland with my whole family.
The conclusion Ford draws is that one of the deep secrets of Jesus’ vocation, demonstrated in the life of Hillesum, was that he had an unrepressed sense of death and Ford ends with this question:
How can we hope to shape our lives wisely if we have not faced up to death and are willing to risk it? Only that can give us realism, confidence and vibrancy to desire what really matters before God.

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