Good Friday morning wading on the beach, Gulf waves are formidable. After several days of a very high wind, shells are washing in from great depths. At my feet lies a large broken shell. It resembles some of the prehistoric shells in my collection. I pick up the shell and emerging from its underside is a small eight-legged creature—such beautiful, delicate legs all coming from a dark ebony center. I am transfixed looking at this little creature’s body for all there is—just a pulsing center. This steady pulse—this heart—is beating to the very same rhythm as my own. The same life is in us both—evidence of God in us. This pulsing center is a living engine that humans can only simulate.
As the little creature cleverly manipulates its eight legs to emerge from the shell, I see the uncountable number of tiny eggs totally lining the shell’s inner surface. This little lady is a sister to me. We have the same heartbeat—the very same breath of God. When her heart stops beating, her body will disintegrate. Mine will also. Her eggs will take care of themselves, and some of them may manage to mature like their mother—as have mine. I think of Life, the one Life that is contained in everything, from creatures that can only be seen through the strongest of microscopes to all the planets, stars, and galaxies and much beyond our vision or understanding.
It is Easter. I think of Sacrifice and what Christian churches have done with this concept. From the time I became conscious of my self, I have felt imprisoned. A living creature consciously imprisoned within a very vulnerable shell of flesh and bones and pulsing organs. I felt very much afraid—too much to think about. For ten years I stayed with this fear. Finally I confided in a friend. He assured me that this is true of every person—we are more than our bodies. I still did not feel at ease and for many years did everything to release this idea. Wordsworth’s words comforted me: "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. The soul that rises in us, Our Life’s star, hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar; not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home."
On Easter weekend, Jesus and his cruci-fixion are in our hearts and minds—his Sacrifice. Has our God, our Creator, made a sacrifice by confining divine Life within the myriad forms we see and those we do not see? I have never understood the general Christian belief that God sacrificed God’s own son to save humankind from sin. Even the biblical Abraham was not required to kill his son Isaac to placate a vengeful God: A substitute for Isaac was provided.
Jesus was a man. He knew the limitations of a physical body. It is evident that he also knew God as an all-loving and spiritual parent, one that could be called upon for help and for healing on a physical level. After his experience with the Light at his baptism, I believe he may have become one with his Father-God. It was an at-one-ment. He became an itinerant teacher who wanted others to know how they, too, might have this ineffable experience of being at one with God—and the way to achieve this. The Christian Church has built a complicated system around all of this, connecting it to Old Testament teaching and bringing in stories from earlier religions.
Jesus could have gone away and avoided the horror of crucifixion, but from the time of his baptism, he was committed to doing what he believed was God’s will. We are told that in his prayers he begged for this final step to be taken from him. It was not to be and he suffered as any human would suffer. He knew that the masses had chosen him for the Christ—a political leader expected by the Jewish people to free them from Roman rule. When asked if he were the Christ, his reply was, "Thou sayest." In death, he provided a different idea of who the Christ might be and also showed that physical death is an acceptable and unavoidable part of God’s plan for creation. Did Jesus realize that his crucifixion would be a symbol—symbolic of Life-God choosing to be sacrificed in physical form?
To carry this thought further we not only see that physical life is a sacrifice, but to maintain life in the body we are dependent upon the sacrifice and destruction of the many little lives in our food and bodily structures that are continually being replaced. Whether vegan or carnivore, we require the death of other lives for our physical life, and other lives require our sacrifice. Jesus not only demonstrated that all physical life is a sacrifice, but in his own life he showed and taught that to experience God’s kingdom we must also sacrifice—give over—our physical, mental, and spiritual selves to a Higher Will. This is hard teaching. It is no wonder that the Christian Church grew around the idea that Jesus did the sacrificing for us. Jesus gave his physical life that we might know the truth that our physical life is not only a sacrifice, but also an opportunity. An opportunity to experience a different sort of relationship not only with our planet Earth, but also with our creator, God. The life that Jesus himself was experiencing and demonstrating. The life in physical form, fragile and temporary, but also joyous and meaningful. In spite of all its trappings, I am profoundly grateful for the preservation of the Gospel story. The Apostles and early Church Fathers gave inspired and poetic expression in their words and lives to keep this wonder alive for 2,000 years.
This Easter epiphany gives another meaning to the symbolism of the orthodox communion service: the bread and wine, the flesh and blood. Our whole life in all its parts is a sacrifice. Our God in physical form is a constant living sacrifice—as are we all. From the time I held this little sea creature—this very small octopus—in my hand and saw its pulsing heart, pulsing to the very same rhythm and count as my own, I have seen life in physical form with greater awareness.
God immanent, everywhere. This setting of sea and sand and sky is God’s expression of incredible beauty. Sacrifice may seem too harsh a term given its biblical meaning. I think of it also as the limitations God used to demonstrate the beauty of Earth and the Universe. Through such limitations, we see with the poet Keats that life in all its myriad forms is Beauty—that "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know."
All around me I see the living expression of God’s sacrifice. God placing an infinite number of limitations upon God. Is God perfect life without limitations? Without the acceptance of my own limitations, it is certain that I should not still be inhabiting a 94-year-old body. The sacrifice is in the living within and subsequently releasing the structures, the containments. We all take part in God’s sacrifice. Not only Jesus, but also the other two men on their crosses beside him. This was truly symbolic. Through such limitations, God has demonstrated beauty beyond imagining. The life of Jesus is a demonstration of a love and commitment that we can only hope and pray to experience and to follow.
It is as if God took a chance in choosing to be confined in numberless structures; but choosing to be expressed in infinite ways provides these myriad forms of life an opportunity to display and experience love and beauty. In addition, God has provided us with free will. God experiences with us our spiritual growth, but more often our selfish rejection of divine will. Jesus showed us that in following God’s will, we cannot escape the learning process inherent in being human.
While on the Cross, still filled with love and compassion, he prayed, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." We are all in this together, loving and suffering at the hands of one another. Jesus’ whole teaching was that we must love and feel compassion for each other. He knew that it is together that we grow. Is it possible that we cannot be perfect in God until all are made perfect?
As a motherless child, I sensed that life in a body was a sacrifice, a frightening limitation, but gradually I grew to realize it is an amazing opportunity. At one with my Soul, I am now, with Wordsworth, ready to embark on that journey back home—to God.