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  • Writer's pictureErika Murphy

The leap of faith

Die while you're alive

and be absolutely dead.

Then do whatever you want:

it's all good.

~ Bunan

All spiritual traditions allude to the concept of an inner "death," a right of passage that enables us to know the divine directly. In the poem above, the 17th century Zen poet Bunan urges us to make sure we're "absolutely dead" in order to experience complete inner freedom. But leaving behind all we've known requires courage, skill, and faith in the grace that carries us to the other side.

Jesus explains that "those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn. 12:24). If we are identified with the ordinary world, we experience the death of our body as the end of our life. If we surrender ourselves completely and "die" to ordinary understanding, we become one with God's eternity.

We also see metaphorical examples of this type of surrender in many modern stories. In the recent movie Dune, protagonist Paul Atreides must escape his pursuers by flying a small aircraft directly into the middle of an intense and violent sand storm. Destruction appears immanent as sand and rocks batter the hull. However, Atreides suddenly sees visions and a hears a voice urging him to "let go." He puts away the navigation system, shuts down the engine, closes his eyes, and allows the aircraft to ride the gusts of the storm. The act of surrender ultimately saves his life.

On a spiritual path, we are called to leave behind our attachment to the intellect as the "navigator" of our lives, and listen to guidance that comes from beyond. The "ordinary" disciplines of spiritual practices and working with a spiritual mentor open the door to this extraordinary realm of knowing, which is completely beyond the mind's grasp.

This is what mythologist Joseph Campbell names as the culmination of the hero's journey: letting go and dying completely to our old way of knowing. We then come to experience "the rapture of being alive," supported wholly by the arms of grace.

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