By Chris Grostic
In every one of the world’s great wisdom traditions, you find the message, “you must die before you die.” Jesus delivers the message as he often does, in a paradox that, if we can hear it, triggers an earthquake to our normal way of thinking: anyone who loves their life will lose it, and anyone who hates their life will save it.
The genius of paradox is that it can’t be understood by thinking. It calls us to an experience, the same experience pointed to by all the great wisdom traditions. The private me, the egoic self-contraction I think of as my “self,” is not all there is! That self is passing, that self will die. Clinging to it-fighting to avoid suffering, failure, loss, humiliation, and all the rest of our ego wounds-is a game we cannot win. But that’s not the end. The promise is that, by letting go of my small self, a deeper self will come to the fore (“anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”). Reality, God, my own fundamental nature is calling me to a deeper self, a whole new way of being in the world; and it’s only my clinging to the small self that keeps me from knowing it.
Without the experience, nobody gets it. The crowd says: wait a minute, we thought you, Jesus, were going to be with us forever; isn’t that what the scripture says? How can you say you’re going to die?
We think we know better; but do we? How much do I, and my religion, skip over the paradox, hearing only that Jesus called for good works and sacrifice with a promise of an eternal afterlife?
Lent and Easter can be the story of a man who died and came back to life, with a set of practices and beliefs to adopt in support. That doesn’t create any real transformation, any real connection with the Divine. It actually turns the small me, the egoic self-contraction, into something far worse – a religious egoic self-contraction, which is even more stuck, defensive, and self-satisfied!
Or Lent and Easter can be an invitation and model, to die before you die and awaken to your deepest self. Once you let go of your small self, “the second death can do you no harm,” as St. Francis said. Jesus points us to that experience here, and then shows us the way.
Practice: Be still, relax, pay attention, and assume no relationship to anything that arises. Who are you?