Last Friday was March 2. In my family, and in my personal life, that is a very special day. It was/is my Mom’s birthday! Were she on earth today she would be 101 years old. Last year was the big 100! It was also the anniversary of my Dad’s death; he died on Mom’s birthday 45 years ago in 1972 when I was 19 years old. (Not a very nice birthday gift, is it?) Actually for years after his death Mom had really great birthday celebrations because we kids knew it was a difficult day for her. The day is kind of “liminal” for me and my family. Liminal is a fancy word, but it means, according to one dictionary, “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.” In liminal times seeming opposites coincide. March 2 is such a day for me; it is a day with a special kind of “energy” for me; a day where life and death are held together in a kind of mysterious relationship. Both are present in my mind and heart at the same time. I am grateful for the birthday of my Mom; I am still saddened by the death of my Dad, and both at the same time!
At this point in my life I find myself grateful for this day and this mystery. Liminality is important in spirituality. This coincidence of seeming opposites actually teaches me about the Paschal Mystery, the dying and rising of Jesus that is so central to our faith and to this season of Lent. It speaks to the necessity of dying in order to be born. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
Some of you may remember that on the feast of the Epiphany last January I mentioned the poem The Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot. That poem is an imaginary reflection by one of the Magi long after the journey; he is now an old man reflecting back on his life. The poet has the Magi ask himself what really happened on the journey, and Eliot writes “There was a birth, certainly. We had evidence and no doubt.” But then he goes on to reflect, “I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different: this birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.” At the end of the poem he says he went back changed, different. He was no longer so “at ease” because the birth he journeyed to see caused something to die in him. And now he knows that this dying was a good thing: “I should be glad of another death,” the Magi says. Birth and death, together. Connected. Related. Maybe even somehow the same; two sides of the same coin.
This season of Lent we think of the death of Jesus, and we “mortify” ourselves with practices that help us enter into his journey and so experience deeper life. We might say “no” to certain things during this season, but only so that we can say a fundamental “yes” to the invitation to follow Jesus as disciples. Whatever we do to mark this season is really meant to help us be born (again), about coming to the fullness of life. Many blessings on the Lenten journey!