Editor’s note: The following column by Stratford Caldecott first appeared May 16, 2014 on his blog Beauty in Education.
Why can’t we all live forever? It seems a terrible flaw in the fabric of the world—that death haunts us from the moment we are born, injecting a note of tragedy into everything. And yet how could it be otherwise, if reproduction is equally a part of the fabric of space-time?
An image of the endless search for the answer to this paradox is drawn by Jack Kirby in his comic book The New Gods. Metron is a character from New Genesis. His chair carries him wherever he wishes, and yet we can take him as a symbol of a search that never finds what it is seeking, in an ultimate sense. Though not the hero of the stories (very much a peripheral character, like Lightray) he offers the image of a powerful archetype.
Why life and death?
Everybody comes to death eventually, either by disease or by “old age.” There’s a part of me, suffering from prostate cancer, that wants simply to get it over with. In that case the simplest outcome is to stay with the illness I have and see it through. Alternatively, I could recover, somehow, and in this way buy a few more weeks or months or years of life.
And yet, and yet…. For God wants us to have a certain treasure, a wealth, that we can have only in a certain way—and that cannot come to us by taking something from him prematurely. “I can find that divine wealth that God, by his adoption of us, intends us to inherit. Wherever I turn, I shall find him. Whether life has smooth ways or rough, whether it hangs my path with lights or hides me in gloom, I am the heir to all that earth or sea or sky can boast of as their possession.”
The “rich things of God,” are the things he wishes us to claim from him. For “I have a claim upon even more. I have a claim upon the very source of this wealth, that is, upon God himself, for he is the sole source of all his greatness.” There is no doubt about it. “I have a right to God himself. He is mine. He who holds in the hollow of his hands the fabric of the world, who with his divine power supports, and with his Providence directs, the intricate pattern of the world, has himself by creation entered deeply into the world; at the heart of everything he lies hidden.”
The author of this remarkable passage (Magnificat, May 2014, pp. 198-9) is the English Dominican writer, Father Bede Jarrett, O.P. He adds that God “comes in a fuller, richer way into the depths of the soul” by grace. It is by virtue of this grace that “here in me are Father, and Son, and Spirit.” And we must conclude that God wishes to give himself to us completely, and in no other way than this. God gives himself to the whole world through us, by giving himself through life and death.
God entered deeply into the world—so deeply that we can call it a merging, a uniting of his own nature with the world itself. It is no illusion, but a real uniting. We can participate by joining in the rhythm of life and death. God hides himself deeply within the world, not as an extension of life, such as an experience or two, but as the totality of being. At first it all seems inaccessible and impossible. The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.
Author’s note: This article will seem far too Christian to many readers, as will many on this site. I wrote it at a very strange time. As I approached the end of my life from prostate cancer, my family organized a remarkable event—a private viewing of the second Captain America movie by Marvel. Members of the cast that I admire are getting in touch and wishing me well. So many of my “last wishes” are being fulfilled at this time. One of them is to have just completed my new book, Not As the World Gives (Angelico Press). Other books I have written are described here. If you read the article above, know that it expresses my beliefs. Know also that it expresses a particular hope—the hope that the goodwill aroused by the actions of my family will touch and open the hearts of many who read it.