Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, 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.Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor." Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say--' Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. -John 12:20-33
[Jesus said] Very truly, I tell you, 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
Praying is a slow dying. In prayer you give up something of yourself and appropriate something of the sphere of the Divine in a continuous cycle of dying and resurrection. In prayer the growing soul leans toward the Light as a seedling leans toward the sun’s path.
Plant a bean in soil, and soon it puts forth roots and a stem and the seed itself is lifted up upon the stem, broken, transforming into the nourishing cotyledon. This skeletal shell gives itself to the new green leaves which then begin the process of photosynthesis. The cotyledon, the old bean in withered form, falls off, spent, like the human body in death, having birthed and nurtured something new.
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19a
To begin, (Meditation One) you might think about the seed growing in darkness as a metaphor for the soul as John of the Cross describes. And you might turn to thinking about the body as well, matter turning and giving and waning in a continual Eucharistic pattern. Philosophers and saints admonish keeping death before your eyes to keep what is important in the foreground, and perhaps as a way of recognizing this cycle.
Meditation Two suggests that depth can be found in the very turning of this cycle of growing and dying. The paradox is found in stillness; Love is most nearly itself / When here and now cease to matter. Where do you encounter the depth of this mystery in your own daily life?
As we move toward Holy Week let's take this turning experienced in our own life and universalize it in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the tomb as womb. It is the whole world being made new (Meditation Three).
I'm hoping you will have a fruitful meditation. -Suzanne
Bosch, Death of the Miser, Detail
Meditation One (Introit) Facing Death
Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die. -Rule of Saint Benedict 4:46-47
In soul One who is learning further details concerning any office or art always proceeds in darkness, and receives no guidance from his early knowledge, for if he left not that behind he would get no further nor make any progress; and in the same way when the soul is making most progress, it is traveling in darkness, knowing naught …. … For the nearer the soul approaches Him, the blacker is the darkness which it feels …. So immense is the spiritual light of God, and so greatly does it transcend our natural understanding, that the nearer we approach it, the more it blinds and darkens us.
-John of the Cross 1542-1591 The Ascent of Mount Carmel
In body ... Ah! Beloved prison in which I have been bound, I thank thee for all in which thou hast followed me.Though I have often been troubled by thee, yet didst thou come often to my aid.All thy need wil yet be taken from thee at the last Day.Therefore we will lament no more, but will be filled with gladness for all that God has done to us both.Now let us only stand fast in sweet hope!
-Mechtild of Magdeburg c.1207-1282/1294
In soul and body True philosophers are always occupied in the practice of dying.
-Plato 424/423 - 348/347 BCE Phaedo
Pinto bean seedling with cotyledon
[Jesus said] Very truly, I tell you
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
Stellar Nursery, Trifid Nebula, 9000 light years from earth, NASA
Eucharistic Universe Our Universe is Eucharistic in its nature. Since the "great flaring forth" 13.7 billion years ago, all beings have been engaged in the exchange of energy. Everything arises, has its manifest time, and then surrenders itself to become food for another to arise into being. Each of us enters into a sacred trust upon receiving the energy given us; if wise, we use that energy for the furthering of the Universe adventure, then relinquish our life so that others may come into being. From stars to mites, everything eventually becomes good food so that life might continue. We might describe the miracle and mystery of photosynthesis with curiously familiar language: a prokaryotic cell learned to eat the sun, storing that life energy to later release it to another so that life might continue. Is that not what we do in our liturgical ritual: eat of the Son that we might remember life was given in order to give us life?
-Sister Catherine Grace CHS
Christ Pantocrator, Cefalù Cathedral, Polermo, Italy, 12th century. Proportion of Christ to the surrounded by gold: divine life within the cosmos. Porphyry gold tunic: divinity. Blue mantle: humanity. Halo crown is also a cross. Arms open as sign of salvation.
Meditation Two (Insight) "My End Is My Beginning"
Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter. Old men ought to be explorers Here or there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion Through the dark cold and the empty desolation, The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
-T.S.Eliot 1888-1965 'East Coker' (last lines)
Meditation Three (Integration)
"The Whole World Was Sown"
Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life; that which happened thirty years ago in the womb of the Virgin Mother was happening now, but now it was happening yet more secretly, yet more mysteriously, in the womb of the whole world. Christ had already told those who flocked to hear Him preach that the seed must fall into the earth, or else remain by itself alone. Now the seed of His life was hidden in darkness in order that His life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning. It was the beginning of Christ-life in multitudes of souls. It was the beginning, too, of the renewal of Christ’s life in countless souls.
-Caryll Houselander 1901-1954
The Last Word
We know that all our mothers bear us for pain and for death.O, what is that?But our true Mother Jesus, he alone bears us for joy and for endless life, blessed may he be. -Julian of Norwich c.1342-c.1416 Revelations of Divine Love (ch.60)
The gardener's autumn begins in March; with the first faded snowdrops. -Karel Čapek
Every gardener deals in death. We ruthlessly murder and cold-heartedly maim. Daily, we make morally complex decisions with regard to our fellow creatures from aphids to snails to raccoons, and to enter into terrible compromises between nature and the family cat. Underneath all the drama, the garden thrives on death. Consider compost, humus, leaf-mold, manure.
Karel Čapek writes in The Gardener's Year (1929), “You must give more to the soil than you take away.” And, “I find that a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil. He is a creature who digs himself into the earth, and leaves the sight of what is on it to us gaping good-for-nothings. He lives buried in the ground. He builds his monument in a heap of compost.”
And, “There are soils as fat as bacon, light as feathers, crumbly like a cake, blond or black, dry or inflated with damp; all these are diverse and noble kinds of beauty; while all that is greasy, cloddy, wet, tough, cold, and sterile is ugly and rotten, unredeemed matter, given to man for a curse; and it is as ugly as the coldness, callousness, and malice of human souls.”
Redeemed matter depends upon death.
Can I give more than I get? Can I let myself die daily in such a way as to help build up the redeemed matter of the world?
Let me give away what nascent hope has barnacled and burrowed in my heart.
Let my tear's brackish reserve break forth to meet compassion's vibrant ocean.
Let my soul's blistering passions find a welcome home at some too quiet, needy altar.
Let me offer love's shards broken in my bleeding, grasping hand to the dazzling beatitude of Love's fulfillment.
Help me to save my life by losing it.
-sg 3/17/21 Mark 8:35
"Rubble is the future"
Rubble is the future. Because everything that is, passes. There is a wonderful chapter in Isaiah that says: ‘Grass will grow over your cities.’ This sentence has always fascinated me, even as a child. This poetry, the fact that you see both things at the same time. Isaiah sees the city and the different layers over it, the grass, and then another city, the grass and then another city again.