Months back, when I was going out for walks to get ready for my summer pilgrimage walk, I bolstered my courage by reminding myself that God would provide me with everything that I need. That was the message I was receiving during prayer. God would provide for my needs.
I would also meditate on the words of Jesus, such as Matthew 6:26
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
and Matthew 6: 31-33
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
There you have it. If God feeds and shelters the birds, he’ll feed and shelter me.
And then one day, during my walk I saw a dead bird lying in the gutter.
It had been decapitated. Its head was lying a few inches from it. I walked 10 more yards and saw another dead bird. It still had its head, but it looked like it had been smashed in the middle. A little bit later, I saw yet another one. It was intact, for the most part. Still very much dead though.
After that experience, I started feeling that the “birds of the air” analogy had some serious flaws in it.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
I’ve also made a daily habit of watching birds in the backyard. Flying from tree to tree. Eating leaves from a nearby plant. Singing to each other. When I look at them, it seems very much like the promises of Jesus are true.
Then I think back to those birds in the gutter.
Animals do die of starvation. So do human beings.
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:7-11
Of the millions around the world who are starving…is it because they lack faith? Does God not love them as much as he loves the people who are getting three square meals a day?
I think about Peace Pilgrim – her faith was unshakeable. Is that why she was supported in her work?
I think about Benedict Joseph Labre. He was a mendicant, a “Fool for Christ” living in extreme poverty. He died at 35 of malnutrition.
Apparently, serving God is no guarantee of protection.
Look at the birds? How about we look at Jesus! According to the Gospels, he lived as close to God as was humanly possible and wound up nailed to a cross for his trouble!
And in the case of Joseph Labre, all he needed was a sandwich! That’s it.
One sandwich would have keep him from being worm food.
But then again even worms need to eat.
God has to feed them too…
When I think of food, I don’t think of it as former living beings or parts of former living beings of that are now dead. I think of…well, food. I think of the stuff that is packaged in boxes and plastic containers that I get at the supermarket that taste really good.
I have little consciousness of the fact that my food comes from animals and plants that were living their lives out in the world somewhere before they ended up on my dinner plate. I have a feeling that my relationship with my “food” would drastically change if I did.
I have a feeling that my relationship to death would change too.
So many animals and have plants have died so that I could live. And the day that I die, maggots will feed off of me. What’s left will decompose and become part of the soil.
From that soil, maybe will trees will grow, trees bearing fruit. Maybe animals and humans will eat off that tree…
Shakespeare said it better:
Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?
At supper! where?
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain
convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your
worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for
maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table:
that’s the end.
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
What dost thou mean by this?
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.
– Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 3
We die so that others might live. Isn’t that the meaning behind the death of Christ, and why Christianity has been compared to fertility religions – the Corn King who dies and is resurrected so that the people might have food to eat?
When I pray to God for food, I’m indirectly praying for and sanctioning the death of another being. So be it. That’s way it works.
But I in turn owe the earth and all its inhabitants a death to keep the cycle going.
The Undiscovered Country
Our culture – and by “our culture”, I mean Western industrial civilization – does not honor death or hold it sacred. It fears death immensely.
That is in no small part due to Christianity, which refers to death as an “enemy” and equates it with sin.
“The wages of sin is death…” – Romans 6:23
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26
Death is the ultimate tragedy of life, brought into the world by Adam and Eve when they brought sin into the world. And though we claim to be “modern minded” and hold up science as the new religion, we still view death the way religious fundamentalists view Satan.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t heal sick people or save people who are dying. We absolutely should.
But I think we should hold death as sacred as we do life.
There are much worse things than dying. Like living a life where one is in constant physical pain. Or living a life of quiet desperation because one is too scared to be the person they were born to be.
You know the saying, “It was just his/her time?” I believe that. We can’t all live forever.
When I die, I want my death to be celebrated. I want my funeral – if there is one – to look and sound like this:
I really like reading about near-death experiences. In these accounts, death doesn’t seem scary; it seems wonderful – like being born again.
It reminds me that there there may be more to existence than a physical life on earth.
Perhaps death isn’t an end, but a doorway to another plane of reality.
Today we’re needed here, but maybe, one day, we’ll be needed somewhere else.
“God Will Give You What You Need…”
I still hear this message when I’m in prayer. Those birds in the gutter have deepened my understanding of it.
I don’t feel like I’m being lied to anymore, or that I’m wearing rose-colored-glasses when it comes to God’s providence.
If I need life, God will give it to me. If I need death, God will give me that too.
Either way, I will be with God. And God is who I really need.