Saturday, March 26, 2016

Life in a Graveyard

"Olive Branches and Easter Eggs"
- in my meditation garden -

Today is “Holy Saturday” on the Christian calendar- the day on which the body of Jesus lies dead on a slab inside a tomb, and so I’ve been thinking about tombs and graves today-  my own eventual grave, the graves in which all our bodies will ultimately rest some day.

Today I am also reminded of a week my wife and I once spent living in a cemetery.

Several years ago we took a trip to my ancestral country of Wales in the United Kingdom. We had booked ourselves into what was advertised as “a lovely little Bed and Breakfast set high upon a hilltop overlooking the Irish Sea.” When we arrived, we did indeed find ourselves in a quaint little 17th century stone cottage overlooking the ocean; however, the ad for this place never confessed that this house was once the home of the local graveyard keeper and it was located right “smack dab” in the middle of an ancient Welsh cemetery.

It was late-night when we finally arrived at the cottage and when we got to our room it was somewhat disconcerting and rather uncomfortable (perhaps even a bit macabre) to be looking out our window only to see acres and acres of tombstones and centuries-old graves glowing in the moonlight.  But we decided to make the best of it and so we mustered up our courage and ventured out for a midnight walk among the tombstones.

The night was brilliant- the innumerable stars in the cosmos and the full moon were so bright that it almost seemed like daylight shining on the ancient well-worn tombstones as well as on graves that had been freshly dug. As we walked among the tombs, we could hear the sound of the ocean, its waves lapping against the cliffs; and the fragrance of the fresh sea air was intoxicating. It was such a magical, thin-place moment.

Standing there upon the bones of the dead I experienced the clarity of an excruciatingly beautiful truth: There is no death, there is only life.

In that graveyard everything and everyone was dancing along in a mystical cosmic movement - the bright moon, the dazzling stars, ocean and earth, those long dead, those of us who still live on this earth and those yet to be born, all dancing with life, endless, boundless, inexhaustible life.

Many people are afraid of cemeteries – perhaps not so much that they fear the dead but rather that they fear dying.

I think about something Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said:

It’s not so much that people are afraid to die,
Our greatest fear is that when we die we will become nothing,
But nothing that ‘is’ ever becomes nothing.

Everything and everyone belong to one another in one great web of interconnection - death is only a passing from one form of “being” into another and nothing that is ever becomes nothing.

An essay in one of my favorite Buddhist magazines puts it this way:

Each of us is like a bubble on the sea,
When the bubble bursts and merges with the sea
it realizes that it has never been apart- it has been water all along.

On this day as I remember Christ lying on a slab in a stone-cold tomb, I realize there is no death, there is only life.

So, I set my gaze toward Easter.

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