Death Does Not End Creation
— By Gabbi Pohlman —
In August of this year, my uncle lost his battle with addiction. While I had great grief over this loss, there was also some aspect of relief. For the past twelve years, I have watched him brutally suffer at the hands of addiction and the other illnesses that resulted as a byproduct. While I initially felt guilty for this relief, I was reminded that death is one of the most natural processes of life and eased him from suffering.
The reality is that pain, death, and suffering exist within the order of the universe. However, the presence of pain and death does not mean God’s plan for the universe was imperfect from its inception. Pain, death, and suffering are creative agents present from the beginning that help drive the universe’s ongoing creation. These aspects are integral to life and should be distinguished from suffering rooted in humans’ unwillingness to accept their limited power or finitude.
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.Mark 5:35-43
The roots of unjust suffering lie in humanity rejecting the notion that, as Elizabeth Johnson beautifully states, “glorious life arises and is renewed in the midst of its perpetual perishing.” Through death, there is a renewal of resources. Nature is our guide. In winter, creation enters a period of rest, which could be likened to a season of grief. In this season, nature utilizes death in the form of fallen produce to compost nourishing, sustaining soil to aid in the next season of production. Death is an instrument both in the long-term biological and theological evolutionary process.
In this season of Lent, bookmarked by Ash Wednesday and Good Friday–each instrumental days to remind us of our finitude, may we recognize that it is not death that separates creation from life. Instead, creation is prevented from living when wrapped in grave clothes of fear and unjust suffering. May we rip those clothes off – any narrative of hopelessness or anything that stifles the praxis of truth. May we never forget the call to live. Though the flowers may wither in the winter, we do not need mourn for new life will spring forth in the spring. Might we have the same wisdom with all creation and praise the new life that always arises from the cosmic humus and ashes. May we acknowledge that even at death our stories are not finished. That the story of the universe is not finished. That everything and everyone is still unfolding in a unitive creative process together.
God, would you speak life into dead places. Would you heal the places and people in our community and world that are experiencing unjust suffering? Would you keep our ears vigilant to hear the call Talitha Kumi and arise? Amen.