Willow Wonderings

Die Before You Die

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We are walking through the forest as rain falls upon the treetops. My friend Erica and I are talking about running, perhaps because we have not stopped running this summer. We sprung head-first into some challenging service in Charlotte. Now, finding respite in a patch of woods, she shares words that I carry with me: “The only way to do endurance sports is to let go of control.”

Letting go – the verb that sounds like the childish losing my grip on a balloon, a failure, a giving in. For the world, this description fits. For the faithful, letting go is a conscious decision. It takes the yes-saying consent of full mind, body, soul. Letting go requires letting in, giving in to give up, trusting a Presence and strength greater than my own. Letting go is synonym of death. It entails loss, surrender, uncovering. The bearing of darkness for the sake of wholeness. The God that ripens through unknowing.

“The Lord will deliver you, and you have only to be still.” – Exodus 14:14

Control – the noun that possesses me more than a child addicted to video games. Holding on by a thread that is imagined, tugging me toward the voices of demons. Control your weight. Control his opinions. Control their addictions. Control the weather and ecosystem and corruption. Control divorce. Everything that rhymes with afraid: make it go away. Or simply pretend it never robbed you of your faith in the first place.

One week after our conversation in the woods, I sit in yoga class on the day of the new moon. The instructor invites us to breathe from the belly, and sit with the fullness of the inhale. She asks us to watch what arises without judgment, to feel sensation without thinking, to dwell in the pause. My mind stirs back to the man across the room from me, wandering what he is thinking. I jump to the light filtering in through the window. Then the dream from last night in which I could finally breathe while swimming toward a sea beneath a mountain. I remember climbing it with my hands and feet burdened. My lungs tightened as I held in my breath. Panic swelled as quickly as waves crash over the shore; her voice forgives me. “When your need to breathe is greater than your ability to witness, let go.”

Exhale. Letting go is a synonym of death. It is entering into the dark without the expectation of clarity. I once knew with certainty that I had power and authority over the world. This was a lie. I was at the crossroads of insecurity and over responsibility, clamoring of voices telling me to be who I never was and never will be – a savior of others. For the first time, faced in the mirror of others’ poverty, I sit with my own powerlessness. I feel the buried anxiety and the expired bomb threats. This summer, the death of a tenant hit me in places I never knew were wounded. I wept for all that I could no longer pretend to hold.

Inhale. When I feel too afraid to sit quietly any longer, I let breath enter slowly. Let the richness of the darkness sink in, fluttering and mixed. I see the story line rise and drift like the rustling of wind. I feel fear, though not as consuming as before. It is placed in the meadow of being with all other emotions. I lay down there to rest.

I am soft, earthen, a creature. I release. One limb to the ground, one thought, one story, one emotion, one tension. Once held, now opened to be reclaimed by its source. I want to release all with all the fabric of my being. Here, in the pit of emptiness, lives the voice of stillness. Let go, it speaks. There is a Presence who dwells deeper than the sea bellowing to hold you. Longing to hollow you as a reed flute through which She can whisper her wisdom. Therein dwells the abundance: the dance that moves Him to fill your emptiness with the sweetness of surrender, the kiss of your limbs reclaimed by earth’s body.

      For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

This is what death teaches us: to finally love like Christ, the one who died to give abundant life to us.


Christ in the rain, Christ in the grief and the release, Christ in the communion of eyes that see poorly. Christ in the eyes of the poor. Christ in the resurrection that comes through his death, the most intimate of sacrifices. Christ who blesses those who let go with the strength to let the Kingdom rise like leavened bread.

Christ who emboldens us to fall into God knowing the weight of our own sin, and to trust the heaviness. Through death, to know the One who waits for us on the other end. To be perched in the nest of God’s poverty, where nothing remains but abundance. Nothing to hold but emptiness. Nothing to be but the darkened chrysalis of love’s catalyst. Nothing to fear knowing fear is nothing but the shadow of illusion. Nothing to breathe but gratefulness. To be faithful through darkness requires all of our strength – taken to become something part of something greater. To be pregnant with expectation and patient in the waiting. Through full moon, new moon, death, birth, renewal, to be still in God’s presence.

Blessed be.

A poem by Rabia: Die Before You Die

Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts
of our body is

So beautiful appeared my death – knowing who then I would kiss,
I died a thousand times before I died.

“Die before you die,” said the Prophet

Have wings that feared ever
touched the Sun?

I was born when all I once
feared – I could


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