Mortality. It’s not a word that our culture wants to reflect on, yet it is an absolute fact of our existence. I had a wonderful conversation with my friend Shirley Banks last week, and we were reflecting a bit on interfaith dialogue–Christian and Buddhist specifically. Within Buddhism, there are the four noble truths: all being suffer, suffering’s root cause is in desire and grasping, suffering can be overcome, one can eliminate suffering through practice. Or something close to that!
Christianity today seems terribly preoccupied with this strange image or concept of Jesus wanting to make us rich, prosperous, happy even. Does Jesus want to make us happy? What must true happiness be rooted in?
These thoughts came to me when I reflected on one of this morning’s Psalms: 39 in particular.
“Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my
Let me know how fleeing my
You have made my days a few
and my lifetime is as nothing in
Surely everyone stands as a mere
Surely everyone goes about like
Surely for nothing they are in
they heap up, and do not know
who will gather.” (NRSV)
Couple this with Psalm 40, and we have “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”
It seems that there is such honesty in these verses, such awareness of our limitations–and that through a realization of our limitations, freedom can be found!
As Norman Fischer describes in his take on 39
“Yes, as nothing, less than nothing
Does every person stand where he is
Walk about like a shadow, an image
Yes, making a useless noise
Without knowing who will use them in the end.”
These are not nihilistic reflections. Not at all. They are the cultivation of an awareness of our dependence and our contingency (I think of my Bernard Lonergan class at Sewanee). And through the awareness of our contingency, we can find peace.
“And now–what shall I expect?
I have hope
But it is only for you.”
That’s true hope….