Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Saints & Souls, Sinners & Winners

Halloween! OK, that's over. I heard Christmas music on the car radio today. We appear to have skipped right over Thanksgiving; indeed, it's not a big retail day, unless you are in the frozen turkey or canned pumpkin business. But before we all launch headlong into the many winter holidays, the ones about birth and light, perhaps we should reflect upon what Halloween's all about: death and dying.

Get beyond the pirates and the princesses knocking at your door. Beyond the candy and the parties and parades. Get to the ghosts, ghouls, and gore. Halloween, All hallows' eve, Samhein, Dia de los Muertos, and even the tidied up versions known as All Souls' and All Saints' Days are holidays that give us the chance to celebrate death. That's why the religious right hate them so much! I was surprised that the Obamas didn't get skewered by the Limbaughs and Hannitys for so publicly observing this hallowed pagan day! And I was so delighted to see them doing it.

The extreme religious right is a death-denying culture. From its emphasis on personal salvation and the hereafter to its hatred of all things primal, feminine, and earthy, it resists and fears life's ultimate end. It teaches that life is eternal, and that may be, but this life, this body, this world is finite. And, as the many Buddhist interpretations as well as the earth-centered and native spiritualities can teach us, death is ripe with lessons we all need.

UU minister and author Robert Fulghum goes to a cemetery on a regular basis and sits beside his own grave. Yogis practice the corpse pose. Buddhist meditators picture their own death. Why? Because a deep acquaintance with the reality of our own demise, regardless of what we believe about what may or may not lie beyond, is key to living well. When I truly understand that life is finite, that my days on this earth are absolutely numbered, that is when I begin to live with intention.

Intention means I do not waste a day, or a moment. It means I treasure: people, their faces, their words and deeds, their quirks and foibles. It means I will experience gratitude for all nature's moods and seasons.. for who knows how many times I shall experience them again? It means that I seize this day, and do with it something of worth, however small. Do I always live with intention? Of course not. Like everyone, I forget that life is finite and death is coming for me as well as for the rest of you. That's when I lose my focus and let days pass me by.

Strangely, becoming accustomed to death, and its certainty, brings joy. When I see how brief and fleeting each life is, I can choose despair or joy. Joy, because it is precious, rare, exquisite, delicious, and beautiful. I'll take joy.

Great Spirit of the Universe, remind me each day of life's precious nature. Amen