The Death of God

These days a large part of the world is celebrating the death and resurrection of God’s Only Begotten Son – an incarnation of Himself. And this year, on Good Friday, when listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the St. Matthäus Church in Berlin, for the first time I could feel what this means – the death of God.  The sadness, and the feeling that comes when “Now you’re on your own…”

No more guardian in the sky, the death of the Transcendent Protector – the loneliness of incarnation and the inevitable end it brings…. Embodied life, the interlude between bodiless eternities before and after…

Original by Marcin Wasiolka, edited by Mushin

It’s not that I do actually believe in the literal happening of the Cross and all that the Christian Myth claims as Real and True. I don’t. Actually I think we cannot take anything as being literal – ever. What strikes me, rather, is how central to our culture is this most basic pattern of the suffering and death of God – and His resurrection. But that’s an addition I can make intellectually. What I felt during listening to Bach’s music was the deep, deep sadness and grief and finally the acceptance of His death…

And an interpretation arose in me that tells me that the death of all that is God to me needs to happen, and actually did happen during those 3 1/2 hours.  And I thought of Nietzsche and his proclamation that “God is dead!” And the immense drama that is there. And I thought that maybe as humanity something similar is happening to us – the Old Gods are dying, and their death deeply affects and saddens us.

The death of a god is nothing new in the history of religion, I think. Osiris comes to mind or Tammuz. But the death of the Only Begotten Son of the Deity claiming to be the highest and actually only real god… Well, that gives it an absolutist twist that allows someone like me to understand, or rather feel something about the human condition that I haven’t measured out in my soul before. Deep in our Western culture Divine Death is anchored as an actuality that, even if one believes in the resurrection 3 days later, might be part of how come we are as we are and do as we do.

We could go into a discussion about sin, and the ecclesiastical explanation for why all this happened – but this seems to be the behavior typical when facing something we don’t want to see – we escape into explanation and interpretation. We seek the signs for hope – and the Christians give us hope with their belief in the Divine Resurrection. Yet, it is alright to let the shock enter us, we can allow the rumble of the thunder to shake us.

So my Easter wish for you is that the primordial image of God’s Death may initiate you.

And may You be resurrected time and again…

Addendum April 5:

I’ve come across paragraph in the book I’m reading (Alone with the Alone, by Henry Corbin) that put the above sketched experience in an interesting light.

If the cry “God is dead” has left many on the brink of the abyss, it is because the mystery of the Cross of Light was long ago done away with. Neither pious indignation nor cynical joy can alter the fact. There is only one answer, the words that Sophia, emerging from the night, murmured in the ear of the pensive pilgrim circumambulating the Ka’aba: “Can it be that you yourself are already dead?” The secret to which Ibn ‘Arabi and his companions initiate us impels those whom that cry has shaken to the depth of their being to recognize what God has died and who are the dead. To recognize this is to understand the secret of the empty tomb. But the Angel must have removed the stone, and we must have the courage to look into the bottom of the tomb if we are to know that it is indeed empty and that we must look for Him elsewhere. The greatest misfortune that can befall the shrine is to become the sealed tomb before which men mount guards and do so only because there is a corpse in it. Accordingly, it takes the greatest courage to proclaim that it is empty, the courage of those able to dispense with the evidence of reason and authority because the only secret they possess is the secret of love that has seen.

Maybe because I’ve been shaken to the bone by the Death of God and blessed with standing alone in the ‘god-less’ landscape that I saw after my tears dried, that I considered – circumambulating around the center of my core – Sophia’s words as actually directed at me: “Can it be that you yourself are already dead?” And then, regarding myself to be the tomb into which God’s dead body was taken, looking, looking on Sophia’s behest, I see that it is empty. The Old God, the One speaking in parables, the One that the religion is built around, the literal One and Only God has died, the Highest Authority… and now the tomb is empty. An Angel rolled away the stone and when I look there is no-one there.

My Father’s Cremation

Some days ago my son and l participated in the cremation service of my father who died on January 20th, at approx. 9am. That was 48 hours later then he wanted, really. As he had done in his life so he did in dying, trying very hard to have things work out exactly as he wanted it. And he got his way, more or less.

Sunday 18th, around 4 pm my half-sister had called and told me, “This is it; they gave him one of the special rooms in the hospital. Tonight, most likely, our father is going to die.” And then she passed the phone over to him. I was crying, my heart breaking, saying, “I love you, Dad. I want you to know. Whatever might have happened in the past, there are no hard feelings left. Nothing hinders what is between us anymore. There is just this love.” He reassured me that he had had a wonderful and fulfilling life. “I am really happy that I can finally go now, and I want you to be happy too.”
In dying as in life he couldn’t tell me directly what he felt about me and about everyone and everything, really. In all of the life we shared he only expressed feelings indirectly, except when he was cynical, ironic or angry. This inability to express most other feelings has been family-tradition since time immemorial until, l think, it finds its end with me. But then again, who am I to tell?
At the cremation hall, where the casket was adorned with flowers, candles burning, behind the curtained windows, half invisible, cars drove by fast in the medium distance on a highway. Later, sitting there and listening to some of my brothers and sisters, and 2 of my Dad’s friends, I was imagining the people in these cars, driving somewhere fast, knowing nothing about what went on here and what we felt.
The close family had been ushered in to have a last look at my father. Stepping up to the open casket I cried, my hand on my mouth which, when I noticed the shock that expresses in this gesture, I let drop again, weakly, and crying. Yes, this was indeed his body, but he was gone, my father was not there anymore. Being almost a week dead his eyelids and hands had weird colors, the rest of him very pale.
Yes, this body had been my dad. And as I went to take a seat, through my tears I saw one after the other stepping forward when they felt ready to greet him one last time.

Mourning is an amazing happening, and for those of my step-, half and brothers and sisters I’ve shared this with, it was very similar. Big waves of sadness and sobbing leaving us almost ‘not of this world’ in its wake. It is easy to do manual tasks, but intellectually demanding or creative work is not possible; there is a feeling of the brain and mind being in a mush. The inability to do much of anything seems to cover all things mental. And I have been amazingly tired without being able to actually sleep much, and then, once I slept, I slept long whenever possible.
Mourning is an out-of-control bodily/feeling happening, something totally natural, overwhelming the person with a sound sadness that feels very much in place.
Is there emptiness where my Dad once was? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem so (yet?); maybe because the relationship with my father had not been too tight, even though in his last year I visited him more often than ever before, not because I believed he was dying soon, but just because there was opportunity. It has been fated.

And then, after my step-brother had started up the ceremony with a song of one of my father’s old friends, a singer-legend in Sweden, and after he had read my sisters letter to the 100 or so people gathered in his honor, I was to say something. We had agreed on possibly 10 minutes and I honestly don’t know how much time it took; there was a deep quiet in me as I stepped up to the pulpit and microphone.
Just a few things I remember of what I said. As I was speaking freely — there were a couple focus points for me on a piece of paper — the flow came; and then I hardly remember anything. I had considered, for once in my life, writing down what I was going to say — wouldn’t want to choke in tears — but I thought that here, as every place I speak publically, it was best to let what is required flow from my heart and presence into the field of us.

I remembered the one and only time my father ever asked my advice; it was about restarting a relationship he had broken with some years before.
I also said, –I think, my father — being a non-believer in these things — will be in for a big surprise when he wakes up from this life to find a welcome committee waiting for him. Matter of fact, I think there is a welcome committee specialized for people for whom waking up in the next dimension is a big surprise.– Something like that.
I also remembered that he was a man with many mistakes, just like me, and spoke about how I felt only love, just like everybody in the family that could be present during his last days and hours. All our wrong doings and mistakes in the end can be washed away by the love between us. It’s unreasonable, maybe even unjust, but it is true nevertheless, and most of all it’s beautiful. Everybody was full of sad love and no grudge held against it.
No matter what goes before, in the end what counts is love.

Afterwards some of the core family stood shaking people’s hands and hearing condolences — looking into all these people’s eyes with the clarity of a love-bathed sadness I could see what the confrontation with the passing away of our close ones opens up: the soul shines through, colored and filtered by the many facets of a person’s character — but, it visibly shines. A blessing.

During all this time my son had been going through his feelings; not being too close to his granddaddy he could be safely sad, the distance cushioning his sadness. To me it was great to have him by my side. Once there will be a time when it’s my time to go, and he might be part of a ceremony honoring my passage. As parents, we not only give life to our children and educate them to be able to live a happy life, we also give them the most intimate taste of death when we go in the end.

The way my father left this world has been an inspiration to me. May I be able to — in the end — go in a similar way; a way where we all feel that we can let go, were actually, letting go is quite natural to us. Passing away like this is a blessing, as is giving life.
It’s amazing, shaking so many hands and/or kiss left-right-left, as is customary with people of a certain proximity in Holland (mostly inter-gender, and not so often with men; with them kiss-kiss-kiss is close relatives only). Some people were holding up the people cueing up behind them. With some people you don’t mind at all, with others you see that they do this because they need the comfort of special attention; this takes some energy but it is a natural part of such things.

Finally my father’s last wife, the mother of my youngest half-sister (4 wives, 6 children, that’s the patchwork my Dad created, 4 of them present + many of the children that came into the family with their mothers), took us all to a place for a drink with closest family and friends. Is it wrong to say that we had good fun? Maybe, but we had. It was good to see all of them in good cheer.

Some time in Spring we will be putting ashes of my father under the tree he used to play under and climb around in when he was a young boy, joyously, so joyously that he was imagining, he told me when we spoke about this a year or so ago, “When my life is over I want to be put at his roots.”