We are considering lessons that surround death. We saw in yesterday’s meditation how M. C. Richards, on hearing of her pending death, challenges head on the patriarchal platitudes about death. “O, death be not proud” and other parallel utterances. In yesterday’s video we shared her poem alongside Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes.”
Frederick Turner has summarized Native American spirituality as “aboriginal mother love.” One would expect from such a tradition an alternative take on death also.
In my book on deep ecumenism, One River, Many Wells, I cite this poignant poem from ancient Meso-American times that names universal questions about death.
Where do we go, oh! Where do we go?
Are we dead beyond, or do we yet live?
Will there be existence again?
Will the joy of the Giver of Life be here again?
Do flowers go to the region of the dead?
In the beyond, are we dead or do we still live?
Where is the source of light, since that which gives life hides itself?
The poet Netzahualcoyotl goes from sadness to hope in his poem about death.
Thus we are,
We are mortal,
Men/women through and through,
We all will have to go away,
We all will have to die on earth.
Within myself I discover this:
Indeed, I shall never die,
Indeed, I shall never disappear.
There where there is no death
There where death is overcome,
Let me go there.
The poet finds a sense of resurrection in acts of art and beauty.
My flowers will not come to an end,
My songs will not come to an end,
I, the singer, raise them up;
They are scattered, they are bestowed.
Navajo artist David Palladin teaches how shamans know the importance of dying before we die.
The symbol of the shaman is the dying, the going back into the underworld to experience our own wounds, to see our own death, to experience it, to rise as a warrior whose only weapon is love.*
We find such teaching in Jesus and other mystics as well.
*A correspondence from his wife from a closing address David gave to participants at a shamanic workshop he conducted in 1983.
See Matthew Fox, “Dying, Resurrection, Reincarnation” in Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 338 and 335-341.
Banner Image: Burial mounds from 500-700 C.E. atop Mt. Atago, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. Photo by G. Witteveen on Flickr.
Queries for Contemplation
How do these questions and teachings about death speak to your own wondering and experience? How do they render more real the teachings of Jesus or others you follow about what comes after death?
One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths
Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit