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A glimpse through the veil

I wrote this reflection on the 6th of February 2020. Our dear friend, Anne Gordon reached a place in her suffering where a window opened and gave her a glimpse into the Eternal, and that glimpse, at the end of her earthly life, gave us who were there a glimpse of the Divine presence that was hidden in the jar of clay we called Anne.

Like Job, she was also saved from the ash heap of suffering and she joined the Great Cloud of Witnesses where she is now cheering us on to also complete our journeys. And her message that day, was the same as Jesus's unspoken message: "The same Presence that raised me from this death, fills your jars of clay and it will eventually burst through the veil of your ego - it is just a matter of time".

And I ask the question: "Can we release the Treasure without the suffering?"

We went to say goodbye to a very good friend of thirty five years yesterday who has been living with pancreatic cancer for the last four years. We may not see her again in this life, we don’t know. Together, we had a profound moment of being together in life, in death, in hell and in heaven in one moment. And we were all captivated by awe and wonder.

The scene is indescribable so I won't try. Suffice it to say that she is a shadow, waiting to disappear into thin air. She was sleeping under the effect of the pain killers when we arrived and we sat in shock next to the bed, waiting for some response. We prayed and spoke to her as if she was hearing and then suddenly there was a reaction when I spoke about her journey ending. She opened her eyes for a second and with great difficulty said, “Is the journey really over?”

We gave her a teaspoon of water, wet her lips and loved her. She responded slowly and eventually opened her eyes and recognised us around her bed.

Somewhere during that time, she asked for a “chocolate milkshake and cream doughnut”. Her mouth was so dry and her lips so parched, her skin so stretched over her skull, that she could barely get the words out and we could just see the smile in her eyes. The most amazing thing was that there was no resentment about the fact that she would never eat it again. There was a boundless enthusiasm about the existence of chocolate milkshakes and cream doughnuts. About taste, about beauty. Nothing about herself, everything about the food. As if she was out of the picture already. And all this with no victimhood, no scapegoating, no self pity. I realised that there was no entitlement.

She told us with great difficulty how beautiful the nurses and cleaning staff are and how much she loves them and how their attitude changed as they experienced this love. She expressed childlike joy over the beauty of the little private room she had and the little window looking at the harbour.She was in wonder about the care she got from the staff, from her daughters and her sister. She was in ecstasy about the glory of being touched and held and holding hands, being hugged and being prayed for.

Wonder, awe, ecstasy did not fit into that situation.

I realised that her ego had been weakened to the extent that she was able to approach life from a unique angle. I had seen it before, but only around people who had suffered much. I realised that there was no entitlement and that created an amazing atmosphere of acceptance and grace that permeated the room and drew us in.

I guess we felt loved unconditionally?

This was not a resignation to her fate - that happened some time ago on this unique journey. This was lack of entitlement and with no entitlement, comes no conditions and that made her love and her surprise very authentic and unconditional. And we felt it.

We had wistfully spoken many times in the last couple of years about Richard Rohr’s, “This moment is perfect and cannot be improved on”. We tried many times to say it with authenticity in the bad moments but never really succeeded. It was just a dream. But when that little diminished, starved figure suddenly said those words, there was a divine ring to the statement. This was not a goal to be reached like it used to be for so many years. She was there! It was a shocking statement in the setting of loss and decay and imminent death.

This was surrender - not resignation. This was, “Father into your hands I give my spirit” and not, “Father let this cup pass me but not my will but yours be done.” She reached the final step after years of practicing resignation with blood sweat and tears, of letting go of the ego’s demands, the needs and desires of the earthly body and the false self.

I am asking God, “Can we reach that ecstasy without the agony?" Can we touch it without being prepared to let go, without the thirst, the vinegar in a sponge on a reed, the experience of being forsaken, even by God?”

Can this be part of our journey so that, if utilised properly, we don't have to go through it all at once at the end?

Maybe it is possible to interpret the brokenness in a way that will destroy the ego-entitlement in this life so that we can experience the richness of knowing God while still on this earth?

I seems to be a matter of “dying to self”, of correct interpretation of pain and of allowing the brokenness to have the desired and ultimate effect - to loosen the grip of our ego and free us from entitlement so that we can become like little children who will enter the kingdom within us.

Maybe it is giving up on the fight for the ego much earlier in life?

Can that be done? Definitely not without a measure of physical threat and loss; for it seems we cannot reach total surrender before we have been touched and mortally wounded in our own flesh. It is the last bastion of the ego; its last stronghold, and the ego can only resign itself with a measure of protest to the brokenness until its last stronghold is affected. Then we can become content.

Then and only then comes the surrender. When there are no more defenses, when the rhetoric becomes tired and ineffective, all our theological arguments useless, when the object cannot be described anymore, the ego accepts its lot to just enjoy the Indescribable and let the wonder of God’s beauty take away the desire to describe something, to change something ... to get off the cross.

And then comes surrender. Into the Unknown, the Indescribable, into the eternal Question.

Could that be what faith really is?

We touched God yesterday and he was not contained by the ego anymore - not limited to an emaciated and broken body. The jar of clay broke and the Treasure was visible for a moment and she said, “This moment is perfect, it can not be improved.”

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Joe de Swardt
Joe de Swardt
Oct 10, 2021

Thank you for sharing this Stephan. You touch on something: "I realised that there was no entitlement and that created an amazing atmosphere of acceptance and grace that permeated the room and drew us in." and this is underscored by the point you make: "This was surrender - not resignation"

Many times we look for that death bed transformation from ordinary to saint. Many times we simply die like we lived. A lifetime of foolishness hardly evaporates on a death bed.

More likely, the hard moral effort of consistently dealing with the demands of the ego just become so apparent when all concerns for a possibly future of years shrinks to a future of minutes. How much of our multiple…

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