Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How sacred IS life?

I think that most people would agree that life is sacred - or, even if reluctant to use the term "sacred", at least that there's something very special about life, and especially human life. To say that life is sacred implies that it has a value that can't be quantified. It's a pretty basic concept, really. At the root of it is an understanding that life is bigger than we are. We may BE little more than a collection of elements - science tells us that 99% of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Incredible! And yet, that tiny undefined part of us that isn't simply a cocktail of elements, has intellect and emotion and desire and can cling to physical life to the very last gasp. Our physical body can stubbornly refuse to "give up the ghost" long after we have lost the desire to live and are even looking forward to the hereafter.

Any number of circumstances and scenarios can remind us of the fragility of life but also just how desperately most of us want to preserve it, for ourselves or for others - to squeeze out every last drop of essence.

A bleak medical diagnosis. A friend who dies in a car accident. A parent or grandparent who dies of old age. A child who drowns in a back yard pool. These are everyday personal crises and even though we can never know exactly how they impact the family and friends of those involved, we know something of the challenge of carrying on. In addition to these very personal kinds of losses there are also images in the aftermath of a natural disaster which evoke tremendous waves of compassion in the face of anonymous suffering. We can relate to loss of life anywhere because we intuitively know the inestimable value of life. Loss of life is a tragedy, regardless of the specific circumstances.

I don't want to get into a debate about when life begins or ends (though for the record I would argue that if life is eternal, it's beginning and end cannot be established on a calendar - or, to put it another way, it begins before birth and extends beyond death, to infinity). The life of our physical body - our three score year and ten - is the visible manifestation of our "being" on earth but is not the whole story. It's a sliver in time and space.

I've always been intrigued by what you can see under a microscope - the magnification reveals a complex and sometimes beautiful diversity that simply isn't apparent to the naked eye. Similarly, we get pretty fixated on our experiences that are tethered to our physical body, and can forget that this is not all there is.

I started this post because I wanted to reflect on the mystery of life and challenge myself - and any who might stumble upon these words - to a renewed sense of awe and gratitude and respect for the incredible (and I think divine!) force which breathes life into each one of us. And to think about the arrogance we display when we act in such a way that we presume to "correct" the "creator's" divine design.

To say that life is sacred is to relinquish our schemes and designs and simply celebrate the life that is. Life IS sacred. And we enter into this sacred tapestry with every breath. Life is also a gift... a gift that ought to be cherished and nurtured and redeemed, day in and day out, in harmony with the rhythms of all of the created world.

Our physical bodies are finite and subject to decay and disease. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The elements which give us form and substance will be recycled but something of us - our soul and spirit - is part of the divine order and will never decay. We can speculate about what it is and what becomes of it when it is no longer attached to our physical body, but for now I'm content to simply celebrate the mystery of it all and to proclaim, with every thought, word and deed, that life is more than GOOD - it's sacred!

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