DEATH SQUARES ANOTHER CIRCLE
Richard Dell, in his book 'WILD WINDOWS 1' addresses a perennial problem that can confound religious and spiritual people, clergy and theologians alike. When someone who has managed in their life to be more than moderately bad, who has caused real harm to others, manages at the last moment to achieve a deathbed conversion – a genuine deathbed conversion – should we rejoice at a ‘sinner’ coming home to God, or should we feel just a little bit annoyed considering the fact that we ourselves have managed only very minor sins, have managed to do our duty and to keep reasonably moral, and… Well, shouldn’t we feel just a little bit miffed?
Chapter 3 in Richard Dell’s WILD WINDOWS 1 addresses exactly this point. He does this in a thoroughly entertaining way, but the point is a serious one. The spiritual journey, the religious life, is seen as a sort of quest, a quest with profound meaning and profound consequences. Think of a truly violent and vicious person, think of an industrialist who has despoiled the environment, think of a business owner who has cheated his or her workers, think of… Well, we all get the point. Deep down we all believe there is some sort of universal redemption, as deep down we all believe that deeply embedded in our universe is some sort of spiritual and eternal justice. It is a circle that needs squaring.
It is worth finding something that doesn’t make sense. Even better if you can label it as a paradox. Because if you can—if you can say to yourself ‘we have a paradox here, we have two things that appear to be true and yet which contradict each other, so that we are left shaking our heads and moving to simpler things, or tea and cake, or a walk, or a spot of undemanding TV—then don’t shake your head or move on or wonder what sort of cake you are going to have with your tea. Do not move on. DO NOT!
Instead, get to grips with it. Because paradoxes are doorways into understanding. Paradoxes are only paradoxes because we have not shifted through them into a higher level of knowing. Once we have opened the door they offer us, crossed their threshold, entered into that higher perception: we can see they are not paradoxes at all. We can also see that we appreciate how our beautiful and sacred Cosmos works just that little bit better. And what should we do after that? Simple: have a good cup of tea and a nice bit of cake, then a walk to burn off the calories, then an evening with some undemanding TV, then a good night’s sleep, and then… Why then, go in search of the next one.
Take the eternal paradox of the dying sinner. We all know the scene. The old reprobate—usually a man—after a life of cheating and lying and enjoying the fruits of the world too well, is at last on his deathbed. He is heading for retribution and by jiminy does he deserve a bit of retribution. There are the rest of us, bumbling along trying to do the best we can, trying to be as honest and fair as we can, trying to help people as much as we can—and probably only being half good at it if truth be told—and there is this man who had trampled over everyone, enjoyed brilliant health, huge amounts of money, mansions galore and queues of beautiful women, but at last he is only hours away from retribution and although none of us want to wish a man ill, we can’t help feeling just a little bit of satisfaction at what ought to be coming: a bit of common justice—even if it’s not for ever.
And then what happens?
The dratted man has a bedside conversion! And I don’t mean a convenient conversion that is as much a trick as all the tricks he has played all his life. I mean a genuine conversion. Suddenly he sees the light. Suddenly he understands. Suddenly he is filled with God’s grace and he is a sinner who has been saved. What!
PARADOX. On the one hand we all want to acknowledge that the man or woman who finally finds peace in God, and who finally has a heart in tune with God, must indeed walk hand in hand with God in the Summerlands that await us. But on the other hand. Come on God! This guy has left a trail of destruction behind him, broken people and hearts. Broken homes. Destitution and despair. And he gets to inherit heaven?
Let us unlock this door. It really is simple. Pass over to the other side my friends and walk hand in hand with this man who was once a sinner but who now has a heart alive with peace and beauty. Walk with him. Love him, rejoice in him. And as you do, feel genuine compassion for him. Because the day must come when this man will return to earth. And in God’s grace he will return with his new and loving heart. But he will never be able to escape the consequences of all his past acts. In some cultures it is called ‘karma’. In others it truly is that we reap what we sow. Our sinner learnt great lessons. He is indeed a new man. But none of us can avoid the consequences of our deeds. We must pay for them because we must balance them. And so the old reprobate who has been embraced into God’s bosom, has a lot of work to do, and one day will have to do it.
Ah the beauty of the paradox. Our heart is one thing. The consequences of our deeds quite another.
Next paradox please.