We will not live forever, so why do we walk this path? Why do we seek wholeness and serenity if it’s all just going to end one day? All those hours of meditation, journaling, and prayer. All those church services, AA meetings, and long walks in the woods. All those sacrifices and all that discipline – what does it matter?
It matters because we are not the end of the story. Our life is only a part of the greater story being told, and our death is our final contribution to the chapters yet to unfold.
In death, our life is a seed planted in the lives of the people we have touched, but the harvest doesn’t stop there. Our gift continues to bear fruit in the lives of people they touch, too, and on and on so long as there are people to receive the gift.
“The fruitfulness of our little life, once we recognize it and live it as the life of the Beloved, is beyond anything we ourselves can imagine. One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil. For this seed to bear fruit, it must die. We often see or feel only the dying, but the harvest will be abundant even when we ourselves are not the harvesters.” ~ Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
Nouwen paints a vivid picture of our every act of kindness and love rippling out through time, the very coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. With this kind of vision, he writes,
“You and I would no longer fear death, but live towards it as the culmination of our desire to make all of ourselves a gift for others.”
All that putting to death of our false self and living into our true self, all that being crucified with Christ, all that emptying of self – it’s all just practice. In death, all that metaphorical, spiritual practice becomes physically, tangibly real. In death, we finally live out our spiritual practice, becoming once and for all the seed planted into the rich soil of human history.
The greatest gift we have to give is the very life we live, and in death we become pure gift. What kind of gift will you be? What kind of fruit will my life bear in generations to come?
In his book, Here and Now, Henri Nouwen presents a powerful thought about preparing ourselves to die well. He writes:
“Preparing ourselves for our deaths is the most important task of life, at least when we believe that death is not the total dissolution of our identity but the way to its fullest revelation.”
When I first read Life of the Beloved almost two years ago with Renovaré’s book club I didn’t really get this message about death being my final gift. Even now, I find myself a bit overwhelmed as I consider the idea that death may not be the total dissolution of my identity, but rather its fullest revelation.
In Life of the Beloved, Henri writes that it’s only through death that our spirits can be fully revealed. He says that we follow the example of the Christ, passing on the Spirit of Love to our friends as we return to the Divine.
I have to sit with these words, let them steep in my heart and mind for a while. When I do, they begin to take focus, like one of those 3D images taking shape out of a flat, chaotic background. I begin to see my little life against the backdrop of the greater human story. I begin to consider that the purpose of my life is not my life at all, anymore than the purpose of a seed is merely being a seed. The whole purpose of a seed is to be planted that it might bear fruit. It’s end goal is to die well.
It is possible to be a seed that merely dies without producing a plant and never bearing forth fruit.
How do we prepare ourselves for such a fruitful death? Practice. We practice the art of dying well by living for others. We practice letting go with humility and patience and love so that when death comes we are ready to give ourselves away without resentment, bitterness, or fear. Like Christ before the cross, we can say that our life is not being taken from us, we lay it down freely. And in our death, our final brokenness, we become bread for the world to come.
I’d like to offer this meditation on dying well from Henri Nouwen as a way to be still with these ideas. I encourage you to take some time to let them steep within you, and please, share with us what you have received. You can sign up for our newsletter, leave a comment, or message me below. You can also be part of the conversation on Facebook at On Journey Together. Thank you for being here.
Buen Camino, my friends.
To the end, to the truth.
Henri Nouwen on Dying Well
We will all die one day. That is one of the few things we can be sure of. But will we die well? That is less certain. Dying well means dying for others, making our lives fruitful for those we leave behind. The big question, therefore, is not “What can I still do in the years I have left to live?” but “How can I prepare myself for my death so that my life can continue to bear fruit in the generations that will follow me?”
Jesus died well because through dying he sent his Spirit of Love to his friends, who with that Holy Spirit could live better lives. Can we also send the Spirit of Love to our friends when we leave them? Or are we too worried about what we can still do? Dying can become our greatest gift if we prepare ourselves to die well.