Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Gift of Mortality (Genesis 3:19/Ecclesiastes 3:20)

By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return. (Gen. 3:19 NASV)

All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. (Ecclesiastes 3:20 NASV)

In North America to be young is to be queen or king of the world. The US especially has enshrined youth and youthfulness as the golden age to be. Our plastic surgery industry cranks out modified bodies by the millions to keep breasts perky and bums bubbled. The present emphasis on the hairless body of both males and females reinforce the notion that the young body is desirable while the older body is disappointing. Gay men even have well defined reactions to the cult of the young with bears and daddies as the anti-hero to our culture's pursuit of all things nubile.

Parts of the christian tradition observes what is called Ash Wednesday. It is a day, or at least an hour service, that counter-cuts the thrust of the cult of youth. It rather bluntly raises up the mortality of humans. For the uninitiated, Ash Wednesday appears as a morbid service concerning sin and death with its reminder that we are nothing more than dust returning to dust. The imposition of ashes on our foreheads become a neon sign of our destiny, regardless of the number of pills, surgeries, or gyms we can afford. 

Ash Wednesday services, for obvious reasons, do not attract the crowds as Christmas or Easter services do. It is much easier and "happier" to celebrate birth and re-birth than it is to observe mortality and death. Yet, in spite of all we do to worship youthfulness, it passes us by and we are but fools thinking that somehow we denied the relentless marching of the years their prize of age and aging.

I think there are certain gifts that come from being mortal and being aware that dust is our immediate, if not ultimate, destiny. I think mortality has just as positive an influence as it does a negative influence. Without such awareness where would be our motivation to improve the human condition? Would earlier LGBTQIA generations have worked so that those following would find a more accepting and tolerant society? Would allies and friends speak with courage and love if there wasn't the urgency of speaking up before death silences? Would we - humans of all strife - seek out love with all its beauty and anguish if mortality's hand was not on our shoulder?

The story told in the movie The Rose King, an angst ridden gay sexuality exploration piece, is unbearable without some acknowledgement that death is always at hand threatening and subverting our lives. It is love born in protest of this natural subversion which grants us sanity. Yet, would this love be so urgent without death's threat? Twice the scriptures remind us that our lifespan is dust to dust. Some of scripture is concerned with what awaits after dust. Most of scripture is concerned about what happens before the dust reclaims us. 

This thing called life emerges and moves and twists and flows. Sometime we master it and at other times life masters us. Irregardless of our place in society, we are all in part motivated by our awareness that someday life, our life, will come to an end. All that will matter on that day is how we heeded the gift of mortality to foster in us the want and hope that our living amounts to something.

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