"O Death, Where is Thy Sting?"
In the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" we witness a fanciful scene where the Ku Klux Klan are enacting a ritual lynching. Row upon row of hooded Klansmen march around in a ludicrous parade while the presider sings a mournful hymn to Death:
O, Death! O, Death!
Won't you spare me over
till another year!
It would be a terrifying scene if it weren't so slapstick, more The Three Stooges than Orpheus in the Underworld. But both the scene, directed by the Coen brothers, and the song, sung chillingly, a cappella, by Ralph Stanley, conjure the sort of imagery that gives nightmares to children. Death is a dark spectre who comes in the night, very much to be feared.
But, is it? I recall ancient churchyards throughout Great Britain, so many of their chapels and tombstones ominously festooned with skulls and crossbones, hourglasses and scythes. But those grim reminders of our mortality were meant to serve a larger purpose than simply to frighten us. They set our feet back on the path of righteousness so that, when death came, we would rise from the trials and tribulations of the flesh to the light and peace of eternal life. Like street evangelists, those images preached hell in order to get us into heaven.
In other words, beyond the scare tactics, death is not something to be feared, but welcomed. Spectral figures may flit and fly about, swirling mists may obscure the way. But in the end it's about a return to the heart of the One from whom we've come, a homecoming that unites us with all there is. Not a bad thing. A good thing.
I've been inspired by the conversations in the Mystic Cave these past few weeks, where death has been approached as a natural process by which we leave the physical realm for the spiritual. It is life giving way to life, energy transferring from one form to another, a passage of the soul from one shore to another. Sometimes the veil between this world and the next is thin and a certain amount of reciprocity can be explored between those on this side and those on the other. But ultimately, death is a great adventure that will only reveal itself fully when the time comes for each of us.
In the meantime, there is much we can do, and should do, on this plain that will affect our passage to the next. We can walk our Unknown Path, open to the soul's promptings, doing the work that life has given us to do and growing in wholeness. In imitation of the Unconditional Love from which we came, we can seek healing for our hurts; reconciliation for our broken relationships, and both the clarity to discern our unique contribution to the world, and the courage to live it out.
Above all, by whatever name we use--God, the Universe, Spirit--we can cultivate a deep and abiding trust in Life itself, that it will guide us here in this world and when the time comes lead us safely home to the next. Death is not a fearful thing. It is the greatest adventure of them all.
Following this week's blog, I will be begin releasing new blogs every TWO weeks. So look for the next instalment on November 1st, when I'll be introducing you to storyteller and "myth-chief maker" Michael Trotta. For now, from this week's Mystic Cave podcast, here's a personal reflection on the conversations of the last few weeks: