Life, and Its Absence

A Lenten Reflection on Emily Dickinson

Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit — Life!
Emily Dickinson

Somehow we are binary. We act or we observe. We sing or listen. We write or read. We are surgeons or patients. Teaching or learning. Active/passive. Every one of us.

I think we all want to believe we fall on the active side of the divide. We are doing, not just watching others do. But mostly we consume. I fell asleep watching TV last night.

But these mornings, I am the action. Though always in reaction. I live out existence like the rest of us, starting by doing.

But the Final B-Side of our 45 record is non-existence, in the only place we know: this moment. We glimpse that reality in every video from Ukraine, in the daily numbers of the pandemic, and in this season of Lent. No other being on earth lives with a knowledge that they will die, but that understanding has been given to us.

A complete distraction of action is often enough for decades. But inevitability makes our finally passive reality simply undeniable. That dark hole makes the active half of our binary seem fully defined by its end.

Which is why 2,000 years ago, whatever happened in a colony of the Roman Empire, was so suspicious and so compelling. Rather than a quiet death (that each of us wants) death literally took center stage, the active killing the passive. For those who ended that life, it was just another threat ended. But for others, a dream of salvation, of righteousness, was ended at that crucifix. They thought the world would change.

Both outcomes were true. Death of body and hope happen to us every day, too. We see it, feel it.

Something happened.

Forget the mechanisms we all live. Something happened that was not the mechanism we are trained to understand — life to death. But somehow the reverse had occurred — death to life. All we have are words. But many. By many. Millions believe in many things, that may or may not be understandable, but something happened.

There is no video of the event, no unmediated record of Easter morning. There is just God and me. Breaking the giver/receiver binary, the truth of grace has always been there — and I am ignorant and self-possessed until I cannot deny it.

The desire to void out what we cannot understand leads us to create “Dark Matter” or “junk DNA” — until it is revealed what is not “junk”, what is not “dark”. Along the way the sing-song magic thinking of passive belief or convenient scientific description set in in the place of understanding is revealed to be just us trying to be OK with just us.

The complexities of life are only touched by our feeble efforts at understanding. That leaves only faith, for me. For I am not a surgeon who can open up the mysteries that we can only define as mysteries.

Lent, for me, in the dark in every way, lets me listen.

Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit — Life!
-Emily Dickinson

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2 responses to “Life, and Its Absence”

  1. Allan says:

    Hi Duo,

    RE: Emily Dickinson…….As always, your mail this morning was inspirational. Keep up the good work.
    My best to you and yours with God’s Blessings for a wonderful Easter.


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