The Life, Death, Life Cycle

We are now up to our necks in Advent, two candles burning. We’ve got lights […]

CJ Green / 12.9.15

We are now up to our necks in Advent, two candles burning. We’ve got lights on the tree and parties dead ahead. It’s a season of waiting, as we know, but with leafless trees and dry skin, it’s also a season of dying.

We know firsthand there has to be death before life, some struggle before triumph. Spring follows winter. There is pain before birth. You can’t celebrate a championship unless teams lost and an effort was expended. Christmas is a celebration precisely because it is a “thrill of hope” for a “weary world,” the promise of life amidst the landscape of death.

One of the best movies I’ve seen recently is Room, with Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. It’s also one of the heaviest movies I’ve seen. It manages to pull off a believably uplifting ending, but I was nevertheless physically distressed for at least an hour after the credits rolled, so I’d recommend watching it, probably just once.

Room is about a girl who has been kidnapped and lives seven years locked in a shed. In the video above, Larson explains that to prepare for such a demanding psychological role, she spent a month at home, without internet and phone service, not doing anything. She sat mostly in silence with herself, and in the end, the challenge of it “broke her in half.”

There was 24 hours when I couldn’t stop crying… It was towards the end.

I really love mythology, and whenever I’m feeling low, I tend to go back to some of these old stories. And everything is always this sense of death and rebirth, the life, death, life cycle. Through this sense of crying…I felt like I was mourning the death of something. I didn’t know what, but I just kept saying to my mom, I feel like I’m dying, something’s dying. And I was waiting for that moment when I was going to hit that birth… The death, and then there has to be the rebirth.

Larson then tells the following story:

As I was in this low state, I had a physical. I was getting lots of like blood work done because I was on a very restrictive diet to prepare for this movie… In the waiting room, at the same exact time, my trainer’s wife was there. They were both there actually. She was ten weeks pregnant and happened to have a doctor in the same doctor’s office at the exact same time. And they were getting their sonogram. They were getting to see their baby for the first time.

And so I got to go watch the sonogram and see this little bit of life. And I started crying again, but it was completely different. And after that I was like, ok, I get it. I got the birth.


The life, death, life cycle features in mythology and ‘old stories’ because it addresses the central questions of existence. How do we deal with death? How do we cope with impending non-existence? Larson’s story might seem a little superstitious, but she’s pointing toward these universal fears and experiences.

Ernest Becker says in the second chapter of his seminal Denial of Death: “All historical religions addressed themselves to this same problem of how to bear the end of life. Religions like Hinduism and Buddhism performed the ingenious trick of pretending not to want what you really want most.” Different religions attend to the question of death in different ways. Christianity is no exception. As in the story above, where Larson insists that when there’s a death there must be a birth, Christianity does not deny death. It redlines into it and offers in a similar way that life persists beyond death.

Becker continues: “Of all things that move man, one of the principal ones is his terror of death.” This may be, in some strange way, why we rush about our Christmas checklists. Becker explains that throughout history people who have been heralded as “heroes” are those people who have “faced death”:

The hero was the man who could go into the spirit world, the world of the dead, and return alive. He had his descendants in the mystery cults of the Eastern Mediterranean, which were cults of death and resurrection. The divine hero of each of these cults was the one who had come back from the dead. And as we know today from the research into ancient myths and rituals, Christianity itself was a competitor with the mystery cults and won out—among other reasons—because it, too, featured a healer with supernatural powers who had risen from the dead. The great triumph of Easter is the joyful shout ‘Christ has risen!’, an echo of the same joy that the devotees of the mystery cults enacted at their ceremonies of the victory over death. These cults, as G. Stanley Hall so aptly put it, were an attempt to attain ‘an immunity bath’ from the greatest evil: death and the dread of it.

Though it often seems abstract, the Christian message isn’t a message for ‘religious people’ only; it lives at the core of what the orators of mythology and the everyday person has always been concerned with: the life, death, life cycle. It bears out daily, even in Advent, as we speed from strip-mall to strip-mall, from party to party. We are weary now, but the thrill of hope is coming.