Week of 1/22-27/2024: Wisdom on the Subject of Death; the Rosary

January 22, 2024: On Death and Dying and Grief
Matthew tells us about his day yesterday. From 1 – 2 p.m. he gave a talk at The Conference on Death, Grief and Belief, and at 3:30, an 83-year-old member of his household died in the arms of his son. When a person dies, Matthew often says: “His work was finished.” This man’s work was bringing his Filipino family to America, where they have both struggled and thrived. Meanwhile, this man, who had been declining for a while, had asked to die at home, and the difficult decision was made to allow that. Matthew says: Death is always a reminder to rethink the way we do life—whether personally or collectively. 

Mary Oliver recites her poem, “When Death Comes.” Video by sincerejd. 

January 23, 2024: Indigenous and More Motherly Reflections on Death
Indigenous wisdom about death is reflected in this ancient Mesoamerican poem: 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? And from the poet Netzahualcoyotl, a sense of resurrection: 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.

Seip Mound, in Ohio, is one of the largest burial mounds in the continental U.S., holding the remains of over 120 bodies as well as a great many burial objects. Wikimedia Commons

January 24, 2024: Wisdom on Death from Shamans & Mothers
Matthew shares some wonderful stories of his mother’s wisdom when she was dying. When she was in the hospital, nearing the end of her life, she once told Matthew she hadn’t been able to sleep. He said he would ask the nurses to give her something to assist her in sleeping. Matthew’s sister she hadn’t been able to sleep. His sister offered to ask the nurses to give her something to assist her in sleeping. “Oh, no,” she said.  “I was up all night because I have never died before, and I wanted to figure out how to do it right.” When the word went out that her death was nigh, all seven children flew in to be with her. When Matthew had his time to say goodbye, she told him, “You know, I’m not afraid to die.” He replied that he knew, and that he knew why. “Why?” she asked. Matthew said, “Because you are curious, and because you are looking forward to an adventure.” “Exactly,”  she replied. She died ten days later while riding an indoor bike.

January 25, 2024: Fear of Death & Destruction of Democracy: Otto Rank & Resurrection
So many are afraid of death. The idea of immortality and resurrection can give hope. Otto Rank, the Jewish psychologist, felt that Jesus’ notion of Resurrection was the “most revolutionary” idea to occur to humankind. Why? Because it democratizes immortality. In his recent study on Resurrection Logic, biblical scholar Bruce Chilton explores the diverse appearances and interpretations of the Resurrection in the first century. Chilton recognizes that the Resurrection was not historically provable, but its fruits are. We can measure its effects on history by way of those who believed in it profoundly.  As Rank proposed, they changed history.

Mother Mary, From Notre Dame de Oliviers, Murat, France. Photo by DDP on Unsplash

January 27, 2024: Rituals at the Time of Death: The Novena & Rosary, Filipino Style
(Though this is out of chronological order, we are looking at this DM first because it is the order in which Matthew wrote them. Unfortunately, due to a crash of our server, the next DM was published first.) Matthew tells us about Rafael, the Filipino man who was part of his household and who died recently. The Roman Catholic Filipino tradition calls for a novena following a death — nine days of praying the rosary and other prayers. A large extended family and community, spanning two continents, has been offering these prayers via Zoom, using the rosary. St. Dominic is credited with having initiated the rosary in the early 13th century.  Since he was from Spain, it is very likely that he borrowed it from the Muslim tradition which in turn may have borrowed it from Indian traditions of the East. In Dominic’s version, the prayers focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It is a good and refreshing thing to celebrate the Holy Mother. 

January 26, 2024: The Original (and Pre-Colonial) Version of the Rosary
A pope in the sixteenth century added these words to the original Hail Mary prayer: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” The original version from the twelfth century did not dwell on sin or guilt or fear of death. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “A religion based on fear is not a religion.” Here, then, is the original version: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, untroubled maiden. You are blessed among women, you who brought forth peace to people and glory to the angels. Blessed too is the fruit of your womb, who by grace made it possible for us to be his heirs.

See Matthew Fox, “Dying, Resurrection, Reincarnation” in Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Banner image: Knowth, in Ireland, comprises a large passage tomb surrounded by 17 smaller tombs, built during the Neolithic era around 3200 BC. Photo by David Gearing. Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons.

Recommended Reading

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

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3 thoughts on “Week of 1/22-27/2024: Wisdom on the Subject of Death; the Rosary”

  1. Avatar

    CREATIVITY~JOY~COMPASSION… continue to grow and evolve in the hearts/Souls and lives of All our sisters & brothers in our Beautiful Sacred Mother Earth with All Her creatures and graceful abundance….
    — Amen

  2. Avatar

    Reflecting on Mary, this Rumi poem has always been my favorite exploration of “Mary”…

    The Body is Like Mary

    The body is like Mary, and each of us has a Jesus inside.
    Who is not in labour, holy labour? Every creature is.

    See the value of true art, when the earth or a soul is in
    the mood to create beauty;

    for the witness might then for a moment know, beyond
    any doubt, God is really there within,

    so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical
    universe – infinite existence …

    though also needing to be born. Yes, God also needs
    to be born!

    Birth from a hand’s loving touch. Birth from a song,
    from a dance, breathing life into this world.

    The body is like Mary, and each of us, each of us has
    a Christ within.

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