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This article is dedicated in particular to Susan Niebur, four-time cancer survivor and presently in hospice contemplating her journey beyond death, and to others who approach death . . . ultimately, all of us.
“During the fiercest period of her chemotherapy, my friend Melanie often asked me to speak poems to help her through the ordeal. ‘That Eliot poem about darkness,’ she murmured one day . . . . ‘I need to hear it right now.’ I put my arm around her and spoke the lines from Four Quartets: ‘I said to my soul be still, and let the dark come upon you / Which shall be the darkness of God.’ I will never forget how her breath deepened as I spoke, her feature softened, and she lay back onto the pillow, letting the fear and pain flow through her more gently”
(saved by a poem: The Transformative Power of Words by Kim Rosen, p.xxiv).
The Delicious Night
Darkness can be comforting. (See To Know the Dark.) To rest in the dark in God’s embrace was the ultimate fulfillment for Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross. The following is an excerpt from The Dark Night of the Soul :
In the delicious night,
In privacy, where no one saw me,
Nor did I see one thing,
I had no light or guide
But the fire that burned inside my chest.
That fire showed me
The way more clearly than the blaze of noon
To where, waiting for me,
Was the One I knew so well.
–Saint John of the Cross
(for lovers of god everywhere by Roger Housden, p.160)
St. John of the Cross, following his radiant and passionate heart, went into “the delicious night” to commune with God. All problems forgotten. No burden remains.
The Final Scene
The next one-and-a-half lines from the earlier mentioned T.S. Eliot poem are the following:
. . . As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
These lines could be construed to be talking about death. In the theatre of life, the scene is changed to portray the final scene . . . death.
Death as a Journey
But death is the beginning of a new life . . . a continuing journey.
”This is the testimony of countless pre-death dreams that make creative use of the death-as-journey metaphor. Dreams of traveling, passing, moving, changing locations, and crossing from one place to another are remarkably common, and they help the dying person anticipate what lies ahead, envisioning the momentous transformation to come” (Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions by Kelly Bulkeley, PH.D., Reverend Patricia Bulkley, p.53).
The following story about a depressed man named Jim and his dying mother is taken from my book Death: The Beginning of Life.
“The day before Jim’s mother died, she made a touching statement to a nurse in the hospital. Jim’s mother, when speaking about her upcoming death said: ‘I wonder if there will be daffodils there. It has been a long time since I have seen daffodils.’ These were nearly the last words his mother spoke. She died the next day.
When talking about his mother’s death, Jim related the daffodil statement. I replied that in certain world religions, flowers are thought to represent the part of a person that goes on living after the body dies. Jim burst into tears and wept. He said that while sitting at his mother’s bedside, at the moment of her death he expected to see some sign that her spirit continued in the afterlife. He saw no such sign. Then he became depressed and thought life was meaningless. Any spiritual reference was thought a sham, and he underwent one-and-a-half years of deep despair.
My reference to the spiritual significance of the daffodil opened the floodgates for him. Meaning returned to his life and his depression lifted. And the daffodil flowers into the beyond.”
An excellent book about dreams and other experiences concerning the afterlife is Afterlife: The Other Side of Dying by Morton T. Kelsey, Jungian therapist and Episcopal priest. I highly recommend it.
Be Still . . . Wait
Another quote from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets (“East Coker, Section 3) is the following:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
At Journey’s End
The following is my creative paraphrase of Eliot’s next line (Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.):
Wait until the voice of God
like a running stream
whispers to you.
“Journey to Me
and your new life.
Behold My face
in the winter lightning.
Joy awaits you
at journey’s end.”
Disclaimer: These thoughts do not apply to suicide. My personal opinion is that suicide is never the answer.
Death: The Beginning of Life is a book about dying – old beliefs, old attitudes, old yous. Parts of my ego died while writing this book. And, parts of your ego may die while reading it.
Photo Credit (Daffodil photo):
Photo by Sarah
Flickr CC License
Linked with Thought-Provoking Thursday.