catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 5 :: 2011.03.11 — 2011.03.24


The shores of Lent

A friend, sitting cross-legged on her living roof sofa, tells me of her three-year-old son’s recent encounter with death. It was a clear spring afternoon and she decided to take her children on an outing to the near-by bay. As they strolled along the shoreline, her son spotted a small, white, feathered body being washed in by the tide. “What’s that?”

He ran up to meet the silent seagull and reached out to pat its corpse. “Mommy, why isn’t it flyin’?”

“Honey, this one doesn’t breathe anymore.  It can’t fly or be with the rest of them.”

He looked up at her, his face pale and his eyes wide and wet, “But, what if it is a Mommy?”

My friend, in the midst of her child’s tender years, is presented with the difficult question of death, knowing that it is her child’s greatest fear to lose her as much as it is her own.

David Suzuki also dares to ask questions about death. A couple of weeks ago, on his CBC RadioOne program The Bottom Line, his topic was Nature’s response to death and decay. He spent most of the time speaking of the mysterious ways in which nature uses death to preserve life. One of his examples was the life cycle of a tree, which relies on xylem, composed primarily of dead cells, to bring living water from the roots to the leaves. At the end of the day’s program, he shared about his father’s request to be cremated, his ashes tossed into the sea. Suzuki’s voice became a tender strain as he expressed the comfort of knowing that his father is still with him, even in death, because his body has been joined with the living.

Suzuki’s description of death is a compelling one. As the radio program ended I sat at my kitchen table reflecting on how wonderous it is that creation portrays that death is not the end. However, I am not convinced that this should be the image that we use when we look at death. Would it have helped my friend’s child in his seagull moment? Does it truly comfort David Suzuki when he lies awake at night missing his father? I fear that it gives the impression that we are in a cyclical story where death does not need to be mourned because as it comes full circle we will be comforted by the life that is still present.

Lauren Winner, the author of Mudhouse Sabbath, writes a chapter focusing on the Jewish practice of mourning. She claims that Christians do not handle the moment of death well. She praises them for their thorough job of recognizing the hope of resurection, but notices that they lack the ritual for the long and tiring process of sorrow and death. Winner goes on to speak of the Jewish mourner’s prayer, Kaddish, which she calls curious because it is a “Gloria:”

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one. Blessed is he above and beyond any blessings and hymns, praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen.

According to Winner, a prayer such as the Kaddish does not “insist on the feelings of praise in intense moments of mourning, but the praise is still there, and insisting upon it over and over, twice a day, every day, ensures that eventually you will come to remember the truth of those praises.”

The story of Scripture is not cyclical because death tears into the pages and its characters experience the abiding pain of loss and separation. Could Lent be a time when we dare to step into a story that draws us to walk on the shores and look up at the cross and cry, “What if this is our Rescuer?” 

During Lent, and during our personal times of passion, pain and doubt may our cries be met with the desperate awareness that death is not the ending. The man dying on the cross is our Rescuer and he speaks the promises of the tender Father from Psalm 91:

I will be with you in the terrible, dark days.

I will deliver you from the shadow, and bring you glory!

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