“Sit in your cell collecting your thoughts and remember the day of your death . . . ”
To modern ears this advice from the early Christian desert father Evagrius sounds morbid; we instinctively shrink away from it. Contemporary Westerners live in the most death-denying culture ever seen in human civilization. But the still-smoldering pandemic has brutally ripped the veil off this massive denial of our human precariousness. Almost everyone on the planet has lost a friend or loved one to COVID. We are having to face death, whether we want to or not.
This new e-course from Cynthia Bourgeault meets us in that challenge with both wisdom and spiritual practices. She explains the course’s objectives:
“First of all, I want to introduce you to a little known contemporary mystical gem, The Mystery of Death by Hungarian-born Jesuit theologian Ladislaus Boros, which has been a mainstay of my own spiritual work for more than forty years now. But even more so, I want to do this against the backdrop of our own point in history, where death has weighed so heavily on people’s hearts these past few years and our own individual and collective terror of it has been so brutally exposed.”
Bourgeault insists that in considering life and death, we have largely forgotten the larger picture: the picture that connects us to worlds beyond our own, to spiritual coherence and guidance more than we can even fathom, and qualities of human character we have almost forgotten, such as courage, trust, equanimity, and acceptance. Boros’s mystical classic restores the big picture, and in so doing invites us to reclaim our lives with freedom, integrity, and fullness of being. He encourages us to imagine boldly, trust deeply, and reawaken to wonder, devotion, and hope.
His take is unabashedly Christian, his theology deeply rooted in the paschal mystery (which is why Bourgeault chose to run this course during “Eastertide,” the fifty days of collective rejoicing and thanksgiving that follows Easter Christ’s resurrection over death), and his own deeply Christ-centered faith. But in the words of Psalm 42, his work is “deep crying to deep,” and by its very profundity, it speaks to the mystical hearts of all spiritual traditions.
“What happens at the hour of my death? How do I prepare? How do I live a conscious life?” These are the questions we all need to be asking once again, from the very depths of our souls, and Boros’ teachings provide rich food for thought and powerful new spiritual resources as our human family collectively begins to regroup.
The e-course consists of 12 emailed lessons, each with an essay by Bourgeault on the themes of The Mystery of Death, along with questions for conscious reflection and spiritual practices to do; the latter will focus on surrender or “letting go” practices, common to all the world’s sacred traditions. You will be invited to share your experiences with this work in the online Practice Circle, where Cynthia will actively respond and encourage you. Toward the end of the course (exact date and time to be announced), we will all gather in Zoom to hear Cynthia address our questions, after which participants will talk amongst themselves in small groups.
It is not required that you purchase The Mystery of Death: Awakening to Eternal Life by Ladislaus Boros, S.J. (published by Monkfish) for this e-course, but it is strongly recommended. Reading the book will allow you to dive much more deeply into this rich material. Copies are readily available from online bookstores.
The entire program — emails, Practice Circle, Zoom gathering, and optional book reading — will help you approach what the great spiritual traditions of all ages have unanimously set before us as the practice of “dying before you die.” Jesus himself put it bluntly: “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).