Wineskins Archive

January 28, 2014

Mortification (Mar-Apr 2007)

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by Henri J.M. Nouwen
March – April, 2007

You cannot have forgotten that all of us, when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death. So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him . . . . But we believe that, if we died with Christ, then we shall live with him too. – Romans 6:3-4, 8

If the God who revealed life to us, and whose only desire is to bring us to life, loved us so much that he wanted to experience with us the total absurdity of death, then–yes, then there must be hope; then there must be something more than death; then there must be a promise that is not fulfilled in our short existence in this world; then leaving behind the ones you love, the flowers and the trees, the mountains and the oceans, the beauty of art and music, and all the exuberant gifts of life cannot be just the destruction and cruel end of all things; then indeed we have to wait for the third day.

But mortification – literally, “making death” – is what life is all about, a slow discovery of the mortality of all that is created so that we can appreciate its beauty without clinging to it as if it were a lasting possession. Our lives can indeed be seen as a process of becoming familiar iwth death, as a school in the art of dying. I do not mean this in a morbid way. On the contrary, when we see life constantly relativized by death, we can enjoy it for what it is: a free gift. The pictures, letters, and books of the past reveal life to us as a constant saying of farewell to beautiful places, good people, and wonderful experiences. All these times have passed by like friendly visitors, leaving us with dear memories but also with the sad recognition of the shortness of life. In every arrival there is a leave-taking; in every reunion there is a separation; in each one’s growing up there is a growing old; in every smile there is a tear; and in every success there is a loss. All living is dying, and all celebration is mortification too.

Our Prayer

I call to you, Yahweh, all day.
I stretch out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead,
can shadows rise up to praise you?
Do they speak in the grave of your faithful love,
of your constancy in the place of perdition?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
your saving justice in the land of oblivion?
But, for my part. I cry to you, Yahweh,
every morning my prayer comes before you.
– Psalm 88:9-13

Source: Henri J.M. Nouwen, Show me the Way (Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992). Used by permission.


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