In the Twilight of Mortality: Reflections Upon Death and Suffering


DSC01745I’ll never forget seeing her, as it made such an impact upon me. A few years ago I worked as a delivery driver for a food delivery company and had to make a run to a children’s hospital. I picked up the order and made the delivery to the nurses there. As I was leaving, a girl walked through the hall and I was immediately struck by her presence. Her emaciated frame made her seem far frailer than other kids her age. Her bald head reflecting the lights, a pink and colorful hospital gown flowing as a dress, and her holding onto a portable IV and almost dancing around with it. She smiled and waved at me and I waved back through the windows of the closed doors. A child, no more than ten years old, facing a level of suffering that some people will – thankfully – never see in a lifetime.

We live in a beautifully tragic world, a world where beauty emanates from the darkest crevices of existence, yet those dark crevices still exist. In many instances, we have put words to our suffering. A man who loses his wife is a widower, a woman who loses her husband is a widow, a child who loses her parents is an orphan, and so on. Yet, some suffering is so great, that we have no word for it (at least not in English). What do we call parents who have lost a child? “Childless” can refer to those who have never had children and therefore have never experienced the joy of their birth or the agony of their death. No word for someone enduring cancer can summarize the suffering, especially of one dying from cancer. We hold no word for those who suffer greatly; we leave our verbal confirmation of the suffering at the word “patient,” or “enduring,” or at the name of the disease, but we dare not create a word to name the suffering. To name the suffering makes it more common, more real, and so we avoid it.

Suffering, both emotional and physical, is a burden which all of us must carry in one form or another. All of us are on death row, walking a very long mile, until the end of our days come. We do not know when our lives will end, merely that they shall end sooner than we had hoped. Our curse is that we must die and in this curse, death becomes an enemy. It becomes a foe we struggle against, who we war with, and in this war we will exhaust all resources to gain even an inch of life. But the battle is futile as we shall always succumb to death.

In our sufferings we believe it better to die, to take our own lives and deprive death the joy of our suffering. In taking our lives we feel we allow death to collect the debt, but to forgo the interest. Admittedly, for those who’s death is inevitably close, for whom death immediately beckons, prolonging their lives are cruel and only serves to create additional pain and suffering. The patient who is terminal, who must rely on machines for life, has suffered enough and we should let death overtake him, as in this way death becomes a friend who ceases his pain.

Yet, the one constant in ancient history is that “So long as there is life, there is hope.” This sentiment is found in Ecclesiastes 9:4, but also Theocritus, a 3rd century BC Greek poet, said the exact same thing, leading Cicero – the Latin statesman and philosopher – to quote it as well. So long as you draw breath, there is hope, but hope in what? Ecclesiastes says it is better to be a live dog than a dead lion while Theocritus says that the dead have no hope.

What if suffering is not a prelude to the end, but the signs that one lives in the twilight of mortality? When we are born, we suffer. We are leaving the only world known to us and must endure great physical pain in the birthing process. Yet, we enter into a world of overwhelming possibilities, one vastly superior to the one in which we lived. What if suffering is merely the birthing pangs we must endure as we enter into another stage of life, a final stage. What are a few moments of suffering compared to an eternity of ecstasy?

Death is immanent for us all, but not immediately so. Whenever death is immediately immanent, it is best to forgo modern medicine’s attempt to prolong a life already lost and embrace the inevitability of our death. Yet, so long as I draw breath, I have hope, even in the greatest amount of suffering. My hope isn’t necessarily in a recovery, but in a God who will not forget me.

For those who fall asleep in the Lord within the Orthodox Church, the patrons chant “Memory Eternal.” Memory eternal is to remind us that God, who is infinite and without time, keeps us in his memory. We are immortal through his doing and his doing alone. In our falling asleep, we awake to his presence where we continue to grow in our love and knowledge of him.

In our disembodied states we shall remain in God’s presence, through his constant remembering of us and eventually we will resurrect into new bodies. Those bodies, though very much physical, shall not endure suffering. We look forward to the day when there shall be no more flag-draped coffins, when we don’t have to create words that describe our suffering, when suffering itself is a distant memory, a vague memory from a long-ago bad dream. In that moment, our present suffering will stand as nothing more than a grain of sand in the infinite hourglass of time. And so we endure our suffering unto death, realizing that as suffering begins we are witnessing the death of death, we are living in the twilight of mortality and stand upon the dawn of eternity.

Being an Atheist doesn’t make you an intellectual: On Horus and other silly things


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Many memes about Christ, specifically linking him to ancient myths such as Horus, is as close to The Walking Dead as we’ll get in this life; it’s a dead thought, empty, that keeps coming at you no matter how many facts you use to shoot it down, feasting on the weak and unprepared, and leaving the survivors confused as to how such a thing can continue to persist on this earth. Eventually it’s nothing more than an annoyance to be dealt with, causing the occasional panic among the hopeless and lazy, but posing no threat to those who know what to expect in such a world.

Let me back up.

The greatest intellectual challenge to my faith ever (and currently) is found in a work of fiction by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Anyone familiar with theodicy or with his work knows where I’m pointing to; the conversation between Alexei and Ivan where Ivan names all the evils that have occurred without reason and Alexei is left without response. It paints a horrific picture of existence, one in where we commit the worst evils against each other, one where we have just cause to question if God is just, or even exists. Of course, Dostoevsky was a devout Christian and even based the character of Alexei off his friend Vladimir Solovyov. Yet, to me this poses a great challenge to my faith.

All that is to say that it’s okay to have challenges to the faith. It’s even okay to not believe. I have friends who are atheists (or agnostics) and have intellectually valid reasons for doubting the existence of God. They are challenging issues, ones without an easy answer, and worthy of inspection. There are others who realize that if God doesn’t exist we have quite a bit to account for (such as, since something exists, we need an ought for that something). They attempt to form epistemological theories, ethical theories, political theories, and so on sans God. While I think there are flaws, it’s a worthy attempt.

Sadly, what I described above does not seem to be the case for most self-acclaimed atheists out there. Most of them see a few youtube videos, see things on Facebook, read some stuff on Reddit, and if they’re really bold will read a book or two by Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, and conclude from such extensive and scholarly study that God doesn’t exist. Oh, and if you do believe in God? Well you’re an idiot and stupid and have nothing worthy to say. Some “historian” says that Jesus didn’t exist and everyone concludes, “Well duh, of course he didn’t!” Never mind that there’s almost a complete consensus among historians of the time period that Jesus existed (they debate over the details), in this case expertise is dismissed for the words of…Michael Paulvokich. His book and main arguments are almost immediately dismissed by the majority of historians (from various religious beliefs or lack thereof), but it didn’t stop many “Reddit Atheists” from exerting how much smarter they are than Christians.

Let’s be honest, this new type of atheism isn’t so much about being an actual atheist as it is just about hating Christianity, or more, about feeling smarter than everyone else. I’m always perplexed that when I speak to people about philosophy, science, political theories, and so on, most people guess I’m an atheist. They either start to smile and go, “You’re an atheist, aren’t you? You’re really intelligent.” Or they frown and begin to witness to me (apparently Christians think people who are educated are atheists). It shocks people to learn that I’m not an atheist. It’s an outright scandal when I go further to say that I believe Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, died, and rose from the grave. A lot of atheists I run into who discover this will just stop talking to me, saying that I’m not as smart as they thought I was. This new-found atheism is more about trying to say, “I’m smarter than you” than it is about discovering any actual truth.

Consider the following image I pulled from Facebook:  Continue reading

In the Wake of Love, Hopelessness Disappears


IMG_0813The vast rat race of modern life

Have we all bought into the lie

Money makes you happy, so find success

Acquire all the money you want, then die

 

Death is the great equalizer of us all

Something that transcends race and class

We cannot escape its omnipresent grasp

We cannot overcome, nor can we surpass

 

What then do we live for

Why continue if the edge is our end

What is the glory of wealth

If hope it cannot land

 

And what of happiness on a September day

If tomorrow it shall rain

Life is more than the moment

For it all culminates to be vain

 

Do we pass on forever in our children

But they too succumb to eternal rest

Our children’s children will one day cease

The hope of life a cruel jest

 

And of the bond between lovers

A tale more fiction than fact

For all lovers end through choice or death

If two become one eventually one will subtract

 

Live for the moment I hear you say

But what of when the moment passes

In the quiet dark when reality appears

When the fear of our end amasses

 

Or do you ignore such questions

Do you push forward deaf to silence

Are you a mindless animal

To reason you must recompense

 

To ask these questions I ask

To face the world with fear

Not about survival, but about life

This differentiates us from animals, it’s clear

 

O stupefied and simple man

How easily you are led astray

Distracted by things of decay and rust

You ignore the night and no longer appreciate the day

 

We fill ourselves with drugs

To push away well-founded anxiety

For what are we in a sea of atoms

What more are we if not concentrated energy

 

What does it matter if I die today

What is gained if death awaits ’till tomorrow

I am but one life in an existence of billions

In my death or yours the universe does not sorrow

 

But what of beauty in this world

Of sunsets, lovers, and manmade art

Surely this is what we live for

This is found at the center of the heart

 

To this I emphatically say no

For what is beautiful shall not persist

The young vixen, the Rembrandt, the cathedral

All will fail and nothing now shall subsist

 

What of the form of beauty

Is this not eternal, for what we strive

What worth of an empty, mindless form

Why, for this, should I survive

 

Why, then, do we continue to avoid death

This all-too-natural unnatural reality

For what purpose do we live

Lest all actions be mere vanity

 

Perhaps we continue on in the name of love

Not mere romance, but something grander

But should the universe collapse on itself

Would not also love capitulate and surrender

 

Or is love beyond the realm of the seen

Could it be that love is the true reality

All now merely shadows, a simulacrum

And love directs us toward an eternity

 

If what we see is all we have

Then there is no point to this life

But if there is more, an unseen extravagance

Perhaps there is meaning to this strife

 

This love cannot be a mindless force

For then it could not be love, no intention

It must be intelligible and full of vivacity

Yet so vast a mystery, one without definition

 

This love must be our object of desire

Our Penelope on the odyssey of being

To run from this love the beginning of misery

Avoiding a contentment that sex and money cannot bring

 

We shall die and decay, but love live on

This love will rescue us from the grave

It will descend to any depths

For there is no soul it will not save

 

Our moments suddenly matter enveloped in love

For they shall continue forever and ever

Love will keep us and protect us

And seek us, to the end’s, wherever

 

Though my soul shall crumble to the abyss

And life collapse and tumble down the slope

I shall no more fear the darkness

In the arms of love I find hope

 

To the abyss love will find me

Love will break open the gates of death

The end of all shall be reversed

As love breathes a life-giving breath

 

Let meaninglessness win the day now

But let not death control history

There is more to life than our senses

Let love reign today, for love has eternal victory

The Irrationality of Existence or, How to Find the Meaning of Life, much to Nietzsche’s Chagrin


DSC01524We’re too busy to ask the big questions anymore, but they linger over our heads like an ominous shadow lurking in our rooms while we sleep. We keep ourselves occupied with jobs, television, movies, video games, the internet, and a host of other things. Companies make billions of dollars a year off the fact that we will buy anything, any amount of money, and do anything we can in order to keep ourselves busy and thoughtless. The more thoughtless the entertainment, the less it demands of us, the more likely we are to consume it. Why is it that reality television shows have become so popular? Is it because we are that dumb, or are we that desperate to silence the big questions of life? At least the alcoholic is honest with himself and admits to drinking in order to avoid and suppress life’s difficulties; the TV junkie or video game addict hardly realizes he has a problem.

Yet, we must all face the big questions. At a funeral, they sneak up on us without our permission and infect our minds. What if I’m next? What has the purpose of my life been? What if this is all it’s worth? We hate funerals because it reminds us of our own inevitability; certainly we will miss the person who has died, but even for strange acquaintances whose funerals we attend out of social obligation we still feel our stomachs turn.  We realize that one day we will be the person in the casket and it is in that moment that life’s big questions engulf us, it is then we all become Jonahs in the belly of a great fish, trapped in a darkness we’ve fought so hard to avoid.

We quickly push such thoughts away by looking at our phones for the latest news, looking at what Jane is wearing, thinking about what the kids have to do tomorrow, putting together a grocery list, and the line of distractions grow. We distance ourselves from the big questions, yet they remain. When forced to confront our own mortality, we are faced with the meaninglessness of our existence. To the ancient Greeks, life wasn’t meaningless because one was supposed to pursue the good. Of course, they then spent countless hours defining and attempting to understand exactly what “the good” was. For Plato, the good was some abstract form, something to which we could only achieve within the form world. To Aristotle, the good was found mostly in this life, through living a virtuous life. Yet, both seem meaningless; if the good is abstracted and unobtainable in this life, then what is the purpose in trying to pursue it? If the good is found in a virtuous life, how much virtue and how long do I have to live before I obtain it? For the Romans, specifically Cicero, the good was best manifested in being a good citizen. But oh that Cicero could have seen his Republic fail (he did see its twilight), for then he would realize that being a good citizen cannot be our ultimate end since the State is mutable. Turn East and one could seek the Tao, but the Tao is immutable and therefore one cannot know if it is obtained or not. Or one could seek Nirvana, which is ultimately nothingness; if the purpose of life is to obtain nothingness, then there is no purpose.

Before we ridicule the ancients in the East and the West, we should better understand that us moderns are infantile in our quest compared to the ancients. At least they dared to stand their ground against the big questions of life. Rather than fleeing as we do, they turned and like a brave soldier fought against these questions. They did battle with the struggles of life and even if they did not emerge victoriously, at least they fought. We moderns are far too quick to run away. We tend to take the meaning of life for granted, hiding behind beautifully written platitudes that when exposed to scrutiny, dissolve like paper in acid. Think of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which while a great film, provides a cleverly written, but stupidly simple meaning of life: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Like modern music, such a saying might sound great to the masses, but there’s really nothing behind it. If the meaning of life is to see the world, then already those who are poor are now excluded from enjoying the meaning of life. Only those who can afford trips need apply to having meaning in life. To see dangerous things to come, to see behind walls (that is, to see the truth of the world), to draw closer and find each other, and to feel; none of these, however, indicate positive things. By all accounts, both Gandhi and Hitler obtained the meaning of life, both Mother Theresa and Josef Stalin stood on equal footing when it came to finding meaning in this life. All involved saw the world, they saw the dangerous things, they saw behind the lies of the world, they drew closer to some and even found love, and they did feel. Such a meaning of life is amoral, which means there is no meaning at all.  Continue reading

I Dream of a Reality to Escape Reality or, The Futility of Consumption


DSC02097Tumbling down the hole of existence

What is the point of it all

Information overload and told a purpose

Still I stumble, tumble, and fall

 

Do I exist simply to exist

Is there a point beyond pleasure

Oh for simpler times I long

To return to a life without measure

 

The simple summer days of youth

Innocence uncorrupted by life

Free from the struggles of today

Free from an adulthood of strife

 

A gilded view of my past I see

A utopia that never was

Life is a fight against the absurd

Perhaps we exist just because

 

“Hear me!” my generation cries with a roar

And yet we have nothing to say

To live is our dream, our goal

But we are afraid to seize the day

 

We are educated for jobs and not callings

To become better consumers and not humans

The life of consumption is not worth living

Personal peace and affluence but a numen

 

I set off into the unknown

I reject your world of consumption

I cannot spend my life spending

I must look past corporate assumption

 

A rebellion of peaceful creativity

Against it all my soul remains

But I awake and look around

I am still in my cultural chains

 

Into the woods I wish I could go

To offer up a greater resistance

Yet, I find myself consumed by the machine

Tumbling down the hole of existence

Morning Must Come


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A big beautiful ball of life
Adrift in an ocean of black
Surrounded by an expanse of strife
Yet here a lack of nothing where nothing lacks

Chaos found a way to this blue haven
Where man kills his brother
Simplicity we have forsaken
And sell our humanity for a dollar

Do we cherish this tiny island of hope
Or toss it away to busy lives and waste
We traverse down a destructive slope
But beauty is something for which we have taste

Man will one day awake anew
To a world familiar yet unseen
He will embrace the love he always knew
And eternally rest in creation redeemed

The day will be brighter but not hot
We shall all laugh and play
An eternal holiday for the wearied heart
How we all anticipate that day

Toil now on his earth
Let the sweat pour until reckoning
For it all has eternal worth
When we shall leave this night for morning

A Story of Christmas or, Sin and the Nativity


IMG_1029A friend sent this to me explaining a dream he had. I shall keep him anonymous and simply post what he wrote

Enter into the temple of creation, see its glorious ruins. We humans are a paradoxical people, enjoying the beauty around us while destroying it. This war against nature extends beyond the realm of ecology, beyond what toxins may contaminate; it extends beyond our bullets and our bombs launched at one another in misguided hatred; it extends beyond the self-mutilation of our psyche, beyond the civil war that rages inside everyone. Our war goes out beyond the realm of our universe, beyond our ontological barriers. Our struggle is one against Reality Himself.

We who wallow in darkness fear the light, for it brings pain to our shadowed eyes. We react to the light by running into the dark. We ask, “Whence is this light in our darkness?” but shut out the light when it encroaches upon our realm. We were drunk on our own glory, but are hung-over in our regret. Now any illumination is ruled too bright. We complain of the night, but dare not venture out into the day.

Once when contemplating evil, I saw the Son of Man wrapped and bound in thorny vines. The thorns dug in, drawing blood from the innocent one. “Why not command the vines loose?” I cried out. But he did not answer me. He instead walked toward me, each step tangling him more, thrusting the thorns deeper. “Please,” I begged. “Stop this sight, speak them out of existence!” And yet the Lamb said nothing to me as the blood began to flow. In anger towards his weakness, I threw sackcloth on him, I spat upon him, and I cursed his name. Still, he said nothing, only lamenting the pain.

The light invaded my dark room, as it seemed to shine from every drop of blood. I wrapped more sackcloth around him to snuff out the light, but as the thorns dug deeper, he grew brighter. My struggle against Reality stood as my greatest failure, the greatest in a long list of failures.

Angered, I relented to my lesson, but continued to mock him. “And I suppose,” I said. “That these are my sins that you took for me?” As the thorns disappeared beneath his dark skin, he still remained silent. Smugly, I stated, “I know the theologies of your substitution. Yes, I see, my sin you’ve taken upon yourself and now I am saved.” At that, my mouth went dry and tongue swelled, I struggled to swallow and feared for death.

“All this,” he finally said. “Is your sin. But I do not suffer for you, but for your victims. The thorns that dug into my flesh, these are the sharp stings delivered to others by your tongue. The sackcloth is your loveless apologies that hold no meaning to reconciliation. You offer peace, but still war in your heart. The light, however, is my glory. No matter the depth and resolve of your darkness, I will always shine through.”

He then touched my lips and I felt my thirst quenched. “You act like an enemy, but I treat you as a friend. You came against my beloved, but I call you a lover. You act in hate, but I am Love. You are finite in your fallacy, but I AM.

After this, he took me to an orphanage, one in a country long forgotten by civilization. I watched as a little girl played in isolation, as she cried out in hunger, and how the workers looked on. No one showed concern for her neglect. I was then taken to an old factory, where distraught women with blank expressions herded into a cramped van. They were off to sell their bodies under duress and without hope.

I saw more images of neglect and suffering, more than I thought possible. I watched the world writhe under the weight of evil while succumbing to its darkest passions. In all its victims, I saw individuals unified in familiarity. All different, yet all held the appearance of Divinity, the Eternal Light bursting forth from their pain in subtle beauty. Their oppressors also struck me with ugly similarity, with faces I knew. In their own way, each one looked like me.

I looked at my Divine Guide, confused and shocked. “The least of these hold my light.” he said. He did not look at me, but continued to stare at the suffering. “And you, the oppressor, bring darkness.” I objected quickly, stating that I am not to blame, that I did nothing to the least of these. “Yes, but you did nothing for them. Do you not realize,” he continued. “I made none of you to be separate. Every action committed in time ripples across time and space, into eternity. Your sin brings darkness to the world, you contribute to the sin of others.”

All light vanished, along with the Word, and I stood in complete darkness. In the distance a dull light brightened, and it shone upon a manger. Inside, a young baby cried and moved about. The star grew brighter, showing the ones I saw suffering bowing before the babe. Behind them were their oppressors, also kneeling in reverence.

I watched as the Spirit hovered over the formless void, shining light and bringing order to chaos. He spoke to me, showing that Hope had come into the world. The dark clouds began to lift, allowing the radiance of the moon to expose the majestic tranquility of the new creation. The angels sang and proclaimed the beauty of the event.

O sinners and enemies of God

To those who war against man

See where thy evil did trod

Observe the failure of thy plan

O abused, diseased, hungry, and tired

To those overcome by the world’s harms

Leave at once where you mired

And find rest within his arms

Into the darkness came the Word

Not to condemn but to save the lost

Peace he brought, not a sword

All saved, paid at such a cost

Today Immanuel, God is with us

As we await the full redemption

Incarnation, Divinity you now posses

Embrace this with full reception

I awoke from my slumber, feeling the cold night air through my open window. An immediate sadness came over me, knowing I was unworthy to see such a sight. A gentleness, however, subdued my sadness and I stood from my bed. I walked outside, staring at the bright Christmas Eve moon. I lit my pipe and sat in my chair, and calmly waited in anticipation.