To accept death is to live with a profound sense of freedom. The freedom, first, from attachment to the things of this life that don’t really matter: fame, material possessions, and even, finally, our own bodies. Acceptance brings the freedom to live fully in the present. The freedom, finally, to act according to our highest nature. . . .
Only when we accept our present condition can we set aside fear and discover the love and compassion that are our highest human endowments. And out of our compassion we deal justly with those about us. Not just on our good days, not just when it’s convenient, but everywhere and at all times we are free to act according to that which is highest in us. And in such action we find peace.
The path of descent involves letting go of our self-image, our titles, our public image. I think this is one of the many meanings of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). What is at stake here is not just false images of God (which mostly serve our purposes), but also comfortable images of ourselves.
.. When C. G. Jung was an old man, one of his students read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and he asked Jung, “What has your pilgrimage really been?” Jung answered: “In my case Pilgrim’s Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.”  That’s a free man. We aren’t really free until we’re free from ourselves: our ego, our reputation, our self-image, our need to be right, our need to be successful, our need to have everything under control, even our need to be loved by others—or to think of ourselves as loving.
The word “human” comes from the Latin humus, which means earth. Being human means acknowledging that we’re made from the earth and will return to the earth. For a few years we dance around on the stage of life and have the chance to reflect a little bit of God’s glory. We are earth that has come to consciousness. If we discover this power in ourselves and know that we are God’s creatures, that we come from God and return to God, that’s enough.
The paschal mystery is the pattern of transformation, and it indeed is a mystery—that is, not logical or rational at all. We are transformed through death and rising, probably many times in our lifetime. There seems to be no better cauldron of growth and transformation, for some cosmic reason.
.. Mature religion shows us how to enter willingly and trustingly into the dark periods of life. These dark periods are good teachers.
.. but questions hold the greatest potential for opening us to transformation. We try to change events in order to avoid changing ourselves. We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning.
.. Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, hibernation, initiation, and transformation.
.. Let’s be honest: there has been little solid teaching on darkness in Western Christianity for the last five hundred years. We have instead sought light, order, certitude, and theological “answers” for everything, which by themselves do not teach us very much.
The path of descent, or the pattern of falling upward, is found throughout the Bible. Jacob’s son, Joseph, is thrown into the well by his own brothers and then rescued (Genesis 37:20-28). The prophet Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern by the civil leaders after he preaches retreat and defeat, and he is rescued by a eunuch (Jeremiah 38:6-13). Jonah is swallowed by a whale and then spit up on the right shore (Jonah 2:1-11). The people of Israel are sent into exile in Babylon and then released and allowed to return home by Cyrus, the King of Persia (2 Chronicles 36:15-23). Enslavement and exodus is the great lens through which Jewish history is read.
Add to that the story of Job as one unjustly but trustfully suffering and restored (Job 42:9-17), and the four “Servant songs” of Isaiah 42-53, describing one who suffers in a way that is vicarious, redemptive, and life-giving for others. The Jewish psyche and expectation are gradually formed by these stories and images. Clearly they were known by Jesus, and he evidently sees himself as representing this pattern.