Living Your Dying

By Rev. Wanika K. Stephens

February 2014

Rev. Wanika K. Stephens

When I first confirmed with Reverend Hardy the subject matter for tonight, “Living Your Dying,” I thought, “What kind of foolishness is this?” Then I had to catch myself, because I realized that Reverend Hardy wouldn’t stick us with a subject that didn’t make sense! So it was up to me to be still and let the spirit reveal what it had for me.

First I began to remember some things; a song that I have heard practically all of my life. The song was a Jazz Standard—recorded by many different artist, but for me, Sarah Vaughn and John Coltrane’s version came to mind, and the composition was, “Every Time We Say Goodbye, We Die A Little” and when I heard this in my mind immediately I thought, “Yes of course!” this makes total sense.

As I continued to give thought to this topic. I remembered that there’s something about truth: it always has a way of witnessing to itself. As we journeyed through this outstanding week of Chi we learned from the people of Dagara through the teachings of Kokomon and Sobonfu many wonderful things that were mind expanding and liberating. One thing that I found particularly interesting came from our reading in the book entitled, Of Water and Spirit by Malidoma Somé. I discovered that, within a family unit of the Dagara tribe, the grandfather and the grandson share in a very special relationship and together they hold one thing in common: their origin and their destination. For both, it is the same unusual place—one that is always full of beginnings and yet, without any end.

It is thought by the Dagara people that, the grandfather has invaluable knowledge to pass on to the newborn child, and that the newborn child also has helpful information or words of wisdom from the ancestors to depart to the elder—information that is so valuable that it is imperative that the elder seek it out immediately.

As I began to take in this information about the gift of a newborn child, I realized just how much each of us have to offer from the moment our life is formed. By the time we take our first breath, we grow, and we begin to learn. With the passing of each day, when we find ourselves entering into the sleep of night to another day, we say goodbye and we “die a little.” This strange dynamic of living and dying each day really speaks to the peculiar nature of the subject matter for tonight, “Living Your Dying.”

Something else that was said in one of our lectures this week with a Zen Monk that really struck me. She talked about “stepping into the fullness of what life presents.” This message goes right to the heart of what we are talking about tonight. Stepping into the fullness of what life presents is an enormous task, and one that is unique to each of us.

Each day we awaken to a new day, and with that day comes new opportunities, new things to imagine, new feelings to get at, and as St. John Coltrane suggests, another opportunity to keep purifying that which we have discovered about ourselves, so that we—even as the grandfathers of Dagara—can give to those who listen the essence, the best of what we are. To do that at each stage, we have to keep cleaning the mirror.

Living your dying is about welcoming the life that you have been given and moving forward in that life with zeal and a profound sense of gratitude. It’s about knowing that each day is an opportunity for us to carry on the process of purification and enrichment of the self. Its about understanding that, even as a tree that is planted by the living waters, we much seize every chance to nourish and to enrich ourselves that we might inspire others to seek out their full potential as well.

Living your dying is about understanding the preciousness of each moment that’s been given to us.  It’s about taking advantage of the chance to express to others, through our living, just how magnificent and wonderful this gift called life is.

Ultimately, as the image of the porthole that facilitates our transition to the next world—the world that is without end—begins to come into view, our goal for living remains the same: to look for every opportunity to give our very best and to receive each moment with a sense of gratitude, knowing that we have done all that we could to be worthy of this moment.