Monday, July 5, 2010

Let the Light Fall

In my prayer this morning St. Benedict's words from the rule kept moving through my mind:

Keep death daily before your eyes.
I have lost a number of friends to cancer recently and so my meditation turned into a question, "How do I feel about the impermanence of life?" In a world that makes such a god of time, how do I feel about this fleeting god? As I continued to meditate on the reality of death I knew immediately that I would like for death to be as much of a friend as possible. And so I turned to thoughts on "daily dying." Every little death brings life. The image that came to me in my prayer is that of little bits of light falling on me at every moment, at every death. All death, even the daily dyings, involve some kind of surrender. If I live with my eyes wide open that surrender can be life giving.
Use the picture above for your own reflection. It was taken on the beautiful grounds of Mt St. Francis Spiritual Center in Ringwood, New Jersey where I just led a 5-day silent retreat. It is a sunset picture and notice how the light is falling so gently on the dying day. As I prayed in joyful and painful remembrance about the friends I have lost through death, especially death to cancer, a poem by Mary Bradish O'Connor came to my mind. I found it in my poetry archives marked, "favorites" and decided to share it here in my post on thoughts about dying.
Get over it. there's a tear in the fabric
of forever and it's just the way
it is. God didn't tap you on the back
because you were a bad girl and today
you pay for it. You did nothing wrong.
It wasn't all the walks you didn't take
or Irish luck that tossed you headlong
into cancer. Consider this a wake-up
call and live your gift of days with joy.
Walk the edge where air is thin and clear,
where fear can take you further.
It's just another country.
Chin up. Step through the door.
Each breath in, a miracle.
Each breath out, a letting go.
--Taken from "Say Yes Quickly"
by Mary Bradish
-Pot Shard Press 1997
When I first read this poem it was an ouch-poem. I didn't quite know what to do with it. I wasn't sure I could ever read it to a friend who had cancer; but then I thought that I would very much like for someone to read it to me if I had cancer. Knowing that the author wrote it after her diagnoses of ovarian cancer moves me deeply. The words, "It's just another country," have remained with me as have the words: "Each breath in, a miracle and each breath out, a letting go." That is something I can begin to practice right now. I, who, try daily to keep death before my eyes choose impermanence as my daily companion. The comforting part of my meditation today is a vision of the light falling around me at every moment. There is always something/someone dying. Let the light fall on all our daily dyings.
Oh! Let the Light fall!


  1. It was very important for me to hear from a doctor friend that my breast cancer was not Godde's way to make me pay for my sins. It was liberating and empowering: suddenly I could fight cancer with both hands. Otherwise, one would have ever been tied in my back.
    Cancer is random.

    And yes, it was a wakeup call, a time to look at my life to forgive and say thank you. And there was so much destruction all around me. Hardly a relationship left standing.

    Also this is when I realize that all that I was, that I am, to my heartbeat, is Godde's.
    So this small cancer that scared me so, the idea of which still scares me every year when it's time to go for the yearly checkup, has been a give. A second chance.

    It has also given me time to have death tame me to the idea that some day I will step into the light. As John O'Donohue wrote, death was born with me and is a daily companion...

    Thank you for this.

  2. I remain awed. Thank you for affirming "Keep death daily before your eyes." In the past year, I recognized death looking at me for 'friendship,' but thought "How crazy is this?" I knew no one who befriended death.
    With split will, I sat with it. One part welcoming, two parts fearing. The welcoming part did see the light...
    Father Meninger defined humility as "Knowledge of truth." When one recognizes a truth, what can you do but respond? My experience has taught me that life and death walk beside me and I need to acknowledge both of them during my life journey... ("remember them"?) how odd, yet how liberating...

  3. Thank you for this posting, Macrina. I am a breast cancer survivor and recently blogged about my own experience. It was a difficult decision to share such an intimate experience with the world, however the experience so informs my being in the world now that I could not "be myself" without sharing it. I love the poem and am grateful to know it. I blogged about your posting on my blog and linked to your posting in hopes of sharing it with more people. Namaste.

  4. This poem is quite breathtakingly beautiful and life-affirming.