Art often symbolically portrays profound aspects of the human condition. An important symbol in 19th-century European art has been "the wanderer," lone human figures symbolizing life as movement—as a journey, constant change, and transformation. Nineteenth-century German artist Caspar David Friedrich's painting "The Wanderer" epitomizes the spirit within humanity that encourages growth, that pushes us to move, change, adapt, be flexible, be transformed.
But the idea that life means movement is much older, reaching back to Biblical times, and from there back into the realm of timeless prehistory. Bible stories tell of people moving from one place to another, from low to high places within society (think about Joseph going from favored son to slave—then to overseer in the house of a top Egyptian officer); or from high to low status (King Nebuchadnezzar going literally to his knees before acknowledging God's supremacy). People change from ignorant to wise, from unbelieving to pious, from selfish to loving and strong.
There is a parable that Jesus told that is dear to me, since it took on special meaning while I was struggling after the unexpected death of a close family friend in a drowning accident. Twenty-one is not the age at which one usually leaves this planet, and terrible grief filled our home for weeks. But travelers we all are, and as we grieved, the idea of traveling on gave me hope for spiritual progress and a new outlook.
What Jesus taught a questioning man 2,000 years ago became a powerful lesson for me, showing me how we can continue to love and walk with our friends after they have passed away. In the parable of the good Samaritan, a man helps and supports the healing of a crime victim, before continuing his own journey. The Samaritan even provides for his fellow traveler's ongoing care by leaving money with an innkeeper to cover the costs.
This story is embedded within a dialogue between Jesus and "a certain lawyer." The lawyer has asked Jesus what he needs to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus, having referred the lawyer to Scriptural law, receives this answer from his questioner: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." Jesus' response is straightforward and clear: "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live" (see Luke 10).
"This do," and live eternally. Nothing is said about death in this discourse. Love for God, and for man—the spiritual creation of the living Spirit—are the only prerequisites. Death is not an option. To love God, who is Life, Truth, and Love, and to share this Life, Truth, and Love with everyone within our mental reach, is to really live, to be.
The Samaritan and the injured Jew were traveling companions because their experiences coincided. They were joined together for a tender moment in time, and as Jesus' message suggests, they continued traveling together, journeying on, as they cared for and loved one another. As such pure love inevitably leads toward eternal life—is the essence of Life itself—so likewise we can taste life's eternal nature as our own caring thoughts rest on others, as our friendships and affections are transformed into permanent traveling companions.
While I was praying to overcome my grief, I understood the injured man in the parable as a symbol of every victim of the belief in death—the most unscrupulous and brutal illusion of earthly existence. On what road am I traveling, I asked myself? What am I believing about life?
Gradually, I realized that there really is no explanation to death, just as there is no explanation why that particular traveler "fell among the thieves." As Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health: "Mortal existence is an enigma. Every day is a mystery" (p. 70). Mortal existence does not make any sense, really. Experiences impel us to reason better, and Science and Health explains how: "Metaphysics resolves things into thoughts, and exchanges the objects of sense for the ideas of Soul" (p. 269).
I continued to listen quietly for God's message, and out of the stillness of tender listening came this powerful thought: Whether it appears to be "untimely" or "timely," death is only an "awful unreality." We all—those who have passed on and those of us who grieve their loss—will have to face at one point or another this terrible claim that life has an end, or a beginning, and that we all are subject to falling "among the thieves." Why not start right now, I realized, to free those who have gone on earlier than we have? Why not start to free them from the limits of matter and mortality, and mentally let them go as free, spiritual beings without beginning or end? In doing so, we continue to move with them in the realm of spiritual good, in Life's realm.
Life is not a kind of simple mathematics of one plus one equals two. Human experience is more complex. It asks for a lot of humility, meekness, and grace—and listening. Most of all, it asks for unselfishness and dedicated caring. There is more to learn than what meets the eye, more to understand than we fathom at this point. "The testimony of the corporeal senses cannot inform us what is real and what is delusive, but the revelations of Christian Science unlock the treasures of Truth" (ibid., p. 70).
In our home, the effort to care more for one another not only healed the grief over the loss of our young friend, it also taught us a lesson about the meaning of life. More than simply pursuing one's own journey, life is about the interaction with and blessing of others along the way. As Jesus' parable teaches, we shouldn't willfully pursue our own route without stopping to free and help those who are traveling along the same life-road.
When my dear father-in-law peacefully passed on recently, the family decided to include in the announcement this verse from a favorite hymn:
I climb, with joy, the heights of Mind,
To soar o'er time and space;
I yet shall know as I am known
And see Thee face to face
Till time and space and fear are naught
My quest shall never cease,
Thy presence ever goes with me
And Thou dost give me peace.
Christian Science Hymnal, No. 136)
Although we miss our promising young friend and my father-in-law—and would love to continue speaking with them both, covering the usual politics and church matters among the hundreds of topics we discuss—our family has traveled the path of unselfish love for them, and has let them move along on their own journeys.
Spiritual intuition tells me that the good and the affection we share with one another are eternal. They do not start with us, really, nor do they end with us. They come from and point toward God, toward Love. No love we have shed on a friend, on those we care about and yearn to see healthy and protected, is ever lost. It goes with them and stays with us. It empowers everyone on whom our thoughts are dwelling.
That seems to me the greatest lesson of all: The love that goes deeper and deeper—that reaches beyond material existence into the realm of Spirit—is the love that overcomes death. And such love overcomes death because it comes from God, from divine Love itself. l
Annette Kreutziger-Herr is a professor of musicology and cultural studies. She and her family live in Berlin.
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