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:: Thursday, September 16, 2004 ::

Meditation on the Imitation

As long as suffering is something that vexes you and which you seek to avoid, then things will go ill with you, for the very affliction you are trying to escape will follow you wherever you go.

::Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ II.xii.11 (trans. Tylenda)

One of the ancient church Fathers once said that the source of our sin was our fear of our own mortality. Knowing that we are mortal, we avoid death and its accompanying suffering: we do whatever it takes to avoid it. In the end, however, this becomes self-destructive and causes its own suffering. We attempt to avoid death by making ourselves invulnerable - and it ends up killing us.

American society today is marked by a desire to forego suffering and a desire to eliminate suffering altogether. This is, in one sense, a noble goal. Yet, rarely do we take into account the Way of the Cross as we attempt to do this.

The Incarnation - the Word becoming Flesh - God becoming Human - Jesus Christ living in the world - God did this with the intention of bringing about re-creation: a new creation free from self-destruction and free from death and suffering. "The last enemy to be overcome is death." Nevertheless, God did not do this merely by promulgating just laws, innoculating against the spread of disease, etc.

Instead, he entered into suffering and death itself: and in doing so he destroyed death. The Way of the Cross embraces both suffering and death as a means to their ultimate, complete destruction. In his rising, he made all creation new: "lest a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

The way of the cross embraces death as the only means to life - life in a new creation. It is in the cross that we look for the destruction of death and the alleviation of suffering in the world. We build hospitals and shelters. We fight for social justice. We stand in solidarity with the poor. We refuse coercion and to be coercive. We stand up for the rights of those who have no voice. We do all this as believers in Jesus Christ because we know that there is more to destroying death and suffering than all these things. We do these things as sign and symbol of the new creation and the reign of God that is coming. We do these things, and by doing so we participate in some small way in the new creation - the Kingdom of God.

This keeps us in perspective: it denies us justification for making our one issue within the greater issue the issue. Nor is it just about us, or just about "them" - whoever "they" may be. It involves God, and is part of what is going on in creation as a whole - throughout time and place.

Which brings us back to Thomas' statement. Disciples of Jesus Christ are in the business of dying - daily: dying in order that we may live. By avoiding the suffering that accompanies that, we avoid Eternal Life, putting off the inevitable, wishing that the cross were not quite so much, well, the cross. By embracing the cross we find ourselves in better position to give life, health, and relief to those who need it.

:: Matt 9/16/2004 07:21:00 PM :: permalink :: ::
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