I’m thinking about “Jacob’s Ladder”, a movie starring Tim Robbins about one man’s fear of death.
In the movie is a wonderful quote, which I often return to for inspiration. It’s a piece of dialogue from Jacob’s chiropractor, Louie, to Jacob when Jacob is particularly troubled:
Eckhart saw hell too. He said: The only thing that burns in hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you, he said. They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.
Meister Ekhart was a twelfth century German mystic who wrote prolifically about religious issues. I’ve read some of his writings and have never been able to find this quote among them. So I don’t know if the quote is just a bit of movie fiction, or if Ekhart really wrote it. It doesn’t matter.
40 days in the desert can be a little like dying, or like burning in hell, though not to the same degree. It’s surprising what we hold on to when confronted by adversity. One of mine is my 42-inch HD LCD television. Although I haven’t tuned to a cable channel since the presidential election, I like to watch DVDs, and I can’t imagine life without my TV. Another is my personal library, amounting to around 2000 books, mostly technical.
But I have less mundane things that I hold on to, like ideas. And a 40-day fast helps to burn some of those off.
One silly idea that needs to be burned off is my belief that I need a daily chocolate chip cookie. I haven’t had one now in ten days. Another is that, if I don’t have dinner with my friends, then they’ll stop being my friends. That one gets burned off when I find that my friends still want to see me when they’ve heard about my fast, even though we can’t dine together.
Another is that I sometimes find myself thinking that I have a hard life. It’s an absurd thought, to be sure. I’m a white male of middle class background living in The United States of America in the twenty-first century, a time when even the poor are better off than kings were a thousand years ago.
But when things do get hard, like when hard financial times strike, or when my health isn’t at its best, it is easy to think that life is hard.
And then I remember Jesus.
I don’t necessarily believe that Jesus died for our sins, or anything like that. I’m not sure yet what I think his purpose was, or whether he had a plan. Maybe he just got behind the power curve and was taken down by the establishment for his teachings.
Yet in his last day on this earth, he certainly had some things burned away even before he gasped his last breath. The horrors of his last hours are hard to fathom. Yet Jesus almost made it look easy. He endured his torture with grace and purpose, perhaps because he believed in his cause. And I believe that his death can be an inspiration for those going through rough times.
If one is committed to his path, he can survive anything. Even the tearing away of his life by devils.