Sometimes calamity needs to slap us right in the face for us to realize how precious the ordinariness of everyday life is. I have seen it time and again in the contexts of people’s lives who have had opportunity to reflect on their lot from a hospital bed, or at the edge of a crisis in their life. And I have witnessed the testimony of many recovering alcoholics who gather around our communion table on a Tuesday night as they describe how they met their maker at the very moment that they stared down the abyss and contemplated falling all the way down. It is as if we need the sudden jolt of serious illness, or of the life-threatening consequences that addictions can cost us, or some other fundamental grief to see that all of life is pure grace.
Yet, what I have also been witness to is the cultural tendency that is prevalent in our society that discourages people from staying too long at that precipice. We can find ourselves urging people to ‘move on’, not to dwell too long on that which is lost or that which is the source of our grief and pain. It strikes me that the Church’s liturgical calendar perhaps unwittingly shares such a tendency. With all of the preparation that the season of Lent leads us through, when Holy Week finally arrives we stay with the barrenness of the crucifixion and Good Friday only for a day before on the eve of Easter we are beckoned to celebrate the risen Lord.
What might it be like, though, if we decided to linger? What might it be like if we chose to embrace the dark night of the soul? There is a danger here, that perhaps it might be too much to bear, too dangerous, even, for us to stay in the midst of our grief and loss.
There was a man recently on the BBC who had no option but to linger, quite literally in the jaws of death, for around three minutes head first and waste deep in a hippo’s mouth. Paul Templer worked as a tour guide on the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe, when one of his party was knocked into the river by a hippo. He went to rescue the man and as he was reaching down the hippo rose out of the water and attempted to swallow him whole. Speaking of the attack (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-22509995) Paul describes struggling to save his life as the hippo dragged him under the water and turned him, crushing his abdomen and decimating his left arm. Miraculously, he managed to wrestle free and now is a motivational speaker and author of the book, ‘What’s left of me. How I lost a fight with a rogue hippo and won my life’. Those three and a half minutes of agony and terror changed his life forever. In a Pauline kind of why, he died in order to be raised up, yet the difference is that he did not choose to die, it came to him. He has, though, chosen to stay around the jaws of his death and build a new life from the vantage of the edge of life and death.Does it really take a hippo to snatch us out of our reverie? Probably not, but the rhythms of consumer culture are numbing by design. We are over-stimulated at a perpetually superficial level, continuously distracted from an awareness of the deep well of the waters of life that move within us all. As these last days of the season of Easter draw to a close our intentional remembrance of the risenness of God, let us not lose sight of the cross and the death that sets us free from ourselves.