On Living with Dying Liturgy of Life Reading Group: Reflections on Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich

This week in our reading group we began Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  It shouldn’t surprise us by the title that the book begins with the death of its main character.  We find Ivan Ilyich in his coffin and the funeral about to start.  Meanwhile Tolstoy introduces us to the people in Ivan’s life, his friend’s like Pytor Ivanovich, his wife and family.  Some are grief struck, others are wondering if the funeral will disrupt their game of cards or more importantly if Ivan’s death will affect them financially.
On Living with the dying: Liturgy of Life Reading Group: Reflections on Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich

 

“Apart from the speculations aroused in each of them by this death, concerning the transfers and possible changes that this death might bring about, the very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always a feeling of delight that he had died and they hadn’t.

‘There you have it. He’s dead, and I’m not’  was what everyone thought or felt.”

 

a few pages later . . .

 

“He had changed a good deal; he was even thinner than be had been when Pytor Ivanovich had last seen him, but, as with all dead bodies, his face had acquired greater beauty, or, more to the point, greater significance, than it had had in life. Its expression seemed to say that what needed to be done had been done, and done properly. More than that, the expression contained a reproach or at least a reminder to the living. The reminder seemed out of place to Pyotr Ivanovich, or at least he felt it didn’t apply to him personally. But an unpleasant feeling came over him, and he crossed himself again, hurriedly- too hurriedly, he thought, the haste was almost indecent- before turning and heading for the door.”

 

I admit I know the feeling of self preservation that Tolstoy describes, dashing through my mind, too quick to stop, every wave of sympathy is paired with pure selfishness, “at least the shooting wasn’t at my kid’s school,” “at least it wasn’t my husband who died in the car crash,” “at least I don’t have breast cancer.” It seems there is a deeply rooted human impulse to protect oneself from disaster before allowing oneself to share in the grief of another.  And I wonder if it is this very attitude which leaves so many feeling isolated and forgotten during times of sorrow.

In my other reading I’ve been working through a book on the history of Christian Hospitality.  In it the author develops the idea of “cultivating marginality” that is, intentionally developing in ourselves a solidarity and familiarity with those on the margins, whether they are there due to illness or violence or economics.  This idea has deep roots in our Christian heritage.  We have always been a people called to move away from comfortable places. We use  disciplines of fasting and prayer, alms giving and  service of the poor to accomplish it.   We are intentional to align ourselves with discomfort until it becomes a familiar place so that the suffering can find themselves comforted by one who understands grief and be aided in encountering the true Comforter.

Ivan Ilych knows more about this than any of us.  He has fought the final battle, he has crossed over from death to life and  faced  head on the reality that fills us with constant dread, that one day we too shall die.  Ultimately those of us living will not know the realities of death until it is our turn. But we have opportunity now to follow in the path of our Christian fathers and mothers and align ourselves with those who suffer, not to turning our faces away in fear or self protection and not to distracting ourselves with entertainment or worries of the world.   Ivan’s knowing face would probably make all of us who live a life trying to flee the realities of death feel uncomfortable because we are intended to live differently, to engage with the marginalized, to sit at the bedside of the dying, to consider the immigrant our friend and in this we will ease the pain of those who suffer and perhaps even prepare ourselves for our own end when it comes.

This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. We would love for you to join us.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

7 Reasons to Join the Liturgy of Life Reading Group A Year on the Body and Spirit

Our bodies have become a political battle ground.  We are rattled with concerns of pornography, sex trafficking, abortion, racism and refugees. And then there are the more subtle issues of divorce, promiscuity, human cloning, and transgenderism just to name a few.  If we call ourselves Christians then the way that we understand our skin and bones and the life that dwells therein informs our conversation in nearly every controversial issue of our day.

If we want to be informed or engage in a thoughtful discussion on any of these issues we must first deal with the body, the human form where these issues are played out, and we must examine what it means for Christ’s body to be broken for our bodies.

Is the body simply a collection of cells, like algae? Is it an inert container for a soul? Or is our physicality essential to our spirit? Is it a source of disdain for not being as strong or thin or capable as it should be?  Are eating and sleeping and having sex pleasures to delight in or are you eager to be free from the body’s sensuous provocations and base impulses? Is Christ dwelling in us a physical reality? Can He really be found in the flesh of our neighbor or a beggar or a child?

Enter in the 2017 Liturgy of Life Reading List. I have no promises that this reading list will answer all of those questions but I do hope it will give us a start. In 2017 we will look at death, care-giving, family, at sexuality, then at the sacredness in all things as experienced through the act of cooking and eating and finally at how our bodies are connected to other bodies through social justice.

We will do this through the lenses of two Catholics, an Anglican, a Russian Orthodox, a Presbyterian and one of our founding church fathers, from texts that were published as recently as 2012 and as distantly as 329.

I have tried to make book choices that are manageable in length and in difficulty (i.e you don’t have to have a college degree to get through this list)  each offering a unique perspective on the body.

As you read along I hope you will be challenged and will end this year with beneficial insights into the realities of body and spirit.  So on to the seven reasons,

1. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy (February)

Don’t be intimidated by the name Tolstoy. This book is short and the style is straightforward. Ivan Ilyich will be our introduction to the body. We will be reading this as we approach lent which is traditionally a time of reflection on our own mortality (I got you excited huh? Betcha can’t wait to start thinking more about dying . . . sorry, but I think in the end it will be good for us).

2. Our Greatest Gift, Henri Nouwen (March)

Nouwen packs big ideas into simple stories. This book will take us from death into care giving and help us to explore the meaning and purpose of our physical life and death.

3. What is A Family?, Edith Schaeffer (April and May)

I’ll admit that Schaeffer’s style can be a bit tedious but Schaeffer, in her unique fashion, will help us look at the family through different lenses. She will transition us from thinking about our individual bodies to our bodies in more complex relationships. Family is our initial and most essential connection to the physicality of others. On the surface she gives advice and perspective on family life but she will also build a bridge to the deeper ideas of our bodies being indwelt with Christ and our ability to minister to the people closest to us through Him.

4. At the Heart of the Gospel, Christopher West (June, July and August)

Three months for this one. It has some deep and essential ideas about the sacramentality of the human experience, specifically in the context of sexuality. I figured since we will be reading it over the summer we will probably move at a slower pace. Of all the books on the list I think this one is the most important to read given the issues facing our modern world. If you don’t happen to be Catholic don’t let West’s multiple references to Catholic documents and officials confuse you, he is digging into some great ideas that have value for all of us.

5. The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon (September and October)

In some ways this is the lightest but also the most tedious read especially if you don’t share Farrar’s love of cooking. It is 98% cooking and 2% theology. And yet the 2% wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the 98%. This book could have been written about any type of work, more than being about cooking (though it really is mostly about cooking) it is about the value of paying attention. When we put forth the energy to work with care, whatever interaction we are having with the world leads us to experience God.

6. On Social Justice, St. Basil the Great (November)

This book was written only 300 years after Christ walked the earth in the days when the Church was still newly established. It is perhaps the founding document on Christian social justice. You will be amazed at how readable and also how applicable this book is to our modern life. If Christ in us then we are truly His hands and our work is to extend Him to the rest of the world.

Well I couldn’t come up with a 7th, but still I’d love to have you reading along.

We will plan on kicking off the first book in the beginning of February and I’ll be posting about twice per month specific to our current read.

To follow along in discussion make sure to check in out our facebook discussion group.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

linking up with some other quick takes today, check them out.

 

A Taste of Heaven: It's closer than we think. Thoughts from C.S Lewis' The Problem of of Pain

“For union exists only between distincts; and, perhaps, from this point of view, we catch a momentary glimpse of the meaning of all things. . .

Once, before creation, it would have been true to say that everything was God. But God created: He caused things to be other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him and achieve union instead of sameness.  . .

But the eternal distinctness of each soul- the secret which makes the union between each soul and God a species in itself-will never abrogate the law that forbids ownership in heaven. As to its fellow-creatures, each soul, we suppose, will be eternally engaged in giving away to all the rest that which it receives. And as to God, we must remember that the soul is but a hollow which God fills. Its union with God is, almost by definition, a continual self-abandonment-an opening, an unveiling, a surrender, of itself. . .

For in self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. . .

From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet more abdicated, and so forever.”

 

This week we finish C.S. Lewis’, The Problem of Pain, which we have been reading for the last few months in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.

Lewis ends his book on pain with a chapter about the hope of heaven.  While life may be a story of suffering it at the very same time is a constant reminder of the eternal joys of heaven.  As our hearts are broken we make space for God to rebuild us, we open up to connection with humanity, we muster all that is unique and special within us and offer it to the world.   A taste of heaven requires no money or strength or resources, no education or skill, just a human soul willing to make a sacrifice.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

A Taste of Heaven: It's closer than we think. Thoughts from C.S Lewis' The Problem of of Pain

 

A Taste of Heaven: It's closer than we think. Thoughts from C.S Lewis' The Problem of of Pain

A Taste of Heaven: It's closer than we think. Thoughts from C.S Lewis' The Problem of of Pain

A Taste of Heaven: It's closer than we think. Thoughts from C.S Lewis' The Problem of of Pain

 

A Taste of Heaven: It's closer than we think. Thoughts from C.S Lewis' The Problem of of Pain

 

 

 

This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now we are reading The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for occasional updates and emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.


Suffering and Sacrament Reflections on the Stations of the Cross and C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain

On Good Friday I attended my first Stations of the Cross procession. Station 5 was moving, in it Simon is called to help Jesus  carry His cross. “In suffering,” the reader said, “there is always an invitation.”

Jesus could have carried the weight of His own cross. He didn’t.  He allowed Simon to help. The story reminds us that we continue to share in His suffering and He shares in ours. It made me wonder if perhaps there is only one Suffering, if we are all connected and it is all our suffering.

Suffering and Sacrament C.S Lewis and the Stations of the Cross

Right now we are reading  C.S. Lewis’, The Problem of Pain, in our Liturgy of Life Reading group. In the second chapter Lewis takes on the topic of Divine Omnipotence. He begins to respond to the common question, “If God is good then why is there suffering?”

Lewis points out that God can do all things but He can’t create nonsense.  It is impossible to grant both free-will to a creation and also refuse it. God created us as individuals sharing a common space.  Being free and living together creates conflict, we all have different desires for how the world should be used, war and violence are the natural outcome of freedom.

And while I follow Lewis (which for me is a lot, sometimes the level of concentration he requires is a bit much for me) I realize that this question isn’t what is keeping me up at night.

My tossing and turning comes from knowing that in the midst of suffering God seems so far away.

I’ve had moments when God felt close, they were divine and beautiful but fleeting, I grasped for them as the cold world rushed back. I could stand the thought of children being raped and women being beaten and men being executed if I knew that they felt the peace of God comforting them. I know sometimes He does this, but there are other times times when we feel utterly abandoned and alone.

I know with time all will be revealed. Even in the short course of our own lives we gain perspective and can look back with gratitude on our sufferings.  Eternity will certainly allow us to do this even more but still the cruelty of suffering without the peace of Christ seems unnecessarily brutal.

I know too that even at our worst Christ is with us, whether we believe in Him or not, if He wasn’t we wouldn’t survive it, He is our breath and our life. Still I wish loss felt less devastating.

Suffering and Sacrament C.S Lewis and the Stations of the Cross

My only hope is that the angst we feel as we encounter the suffering of others serves as God’s mighty call to rouse us into action, that the uneasiness stirring in our souls is His spirit moving through us, reminding us that the Divine has indwelt us. When we suffer He suffers, when we reach out to save, He reaches out too.

 

 

 

 

 

This year in the Liturgy of Life reading group we are meditating on ideas of suffering and faith. Please join us in our current  book, The Problem of Pain in another week. For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for occasional updates and emails (usually about one per week), like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group.