Today we continue our late autumn theme of “Death and Life” with a new contributor, Genevieve Wood. Our next theme for early winter will be “Beginnings”. Send your writing and art to humanisticpaganism [at sign] gmail.com by December 21, 2013.
To look life in the face.
Always to look life in the face
And to know it for what it is.
At last to know it.
To love it for what it is,
And then, to put it away.
— The Hours (film)
We are born to die
We are born, only to die, only to cease to exist as we are. Knowledge of that ending, of a time to come without us, is terrifying to many people. So we search for immortality, guarantees, anything to predict what will come when, and how to plan for or against it. But our daily life offers no guarantees, no promises of the future except that it will come. Promises of the future can only come from faith.
How we handle the knowledge of mortality defines us in many ways. We spend our lives striving for immortality, hoping for survival against all reality. Yet in truth many of us desire certainty even more than immortality, desire to know the date and time of our death, and to know how it will happen and how to pass painlessly and with grace. Such knowledge cannot exist, of course, because even if we knew our own body’s original time limit, we constantly do things to change that and shorten and lengthen our timeframe.
This uncertainty and brevity of life, far from the apparent curse people see it as, is actually a great blessing in disguise. Only because we do not know the time of our death can we risk it, always in the hopes that it won’t be this time, won’t be us. We strive and struggle against the unknown, to learn, and grow, and become better than we were. This drive for immortality, not in the body, but in the minds of others, drives both the best and the worst of human behavior. We seek the immortality of opinion, of remembrance, and that seeking can guide us in many directions of life.
The Divine lives and dies in us
We exist, and strive, for a reason. As part of the Divine, we are separately-willed individuals that work to improve ourselves and the Universe around us when we are at our best. These drives to strive, to grow, to change and improve ourselves and others, push us only because we have a time limit, because we cannot put these desires off indefinitely, but must work at them from a young age if we hope to achieve them.
All words, however, are cold comfort when faced with mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. The Divine can seem cold and uncaring compared to personal pain and hardship. Yet, the Divine suffers, as we do, with each death, and rejoices with us in each life. Our Flame is that of the Divine, never lost or forgotten, even when we leave our bodies and cease to be separate, and are again one with the Universe.
The loss of ourselves, of our individuality, is scary to many people. We value our identities, our separateness from each other, even as we bemoan it. Anything that threatens our separateness, our knowledge of self, is a potential threat even as it is a potential gift. And so we fear death, knowing that we will no longer be ourselves when we do not wear our bodies, and fearing what we might be without them. We try to find ways to save our individuality even beyond death, beyond all knowledge into the realm of hope and faith.
But the Universe does not conform to our will and desires, much as we wish it did. Our lives end, but we are never forgotten or lost, but instead returned to the greater Universe.
Questions: What do you do in response to the fear of death? Does it help? Hurt? What blessing has mortality brought to your life? How can you live without certainty? Would life be better if we knew of how we would die?
Genevieve Wood is the founder of FlameKeeping, a pantheistic philosophy of life. In her day life she is a stay at home mother and a knitter. FlameKeeping was founded due to a lack of philosophical structures in pagan religions. The idea of FlameKeeping is that everyone and everything is part of the Divine Universe. We need to work together to improve that divine, building and co-creating the universe through our lives. We are not passive participants, we are active shapers in the future and must live as such. More information can be found at www.flamekeeping.org and in her book Kindling Our Stars, available at Lulu.com and Amazon.com.
This Wednesday, we will hear from our another of our columnists, Jon Cleland Host, Starstuff, Contemplating: “Evolutionary Parenting”. Don’t miss it!