For me the cicada song is like waves crashing and receding on the shore of the ocean. The rhythmic sweep of sound from the trees carry me back to my childhood in Iowa on barefoot summer nights – fireflies, hide and seek, popsicles, and kids screaming with laughter, as we plucked the critters’ brown, brittle exoskeletons from trees and threw them at each other.
I long to abandon the brittle, cramped casing I call my “self” in a burst of resonant sound like my molting neighbors. I have been trying to die to myself this summer.
This was not my idea, and the notion has been at work in me for several years. It is one of those, pesky, persistent summons out of scripture, which keeps popping into one’s awareness in various ways – prayer, a book you randomly pick up and open, a conversation, a rhyme or song repeating itself. In my case I would add to these my own weariness with the burden of this self, which desires and grasps, resists and repels all real and imagined threats to its existence, as well as my self’s loud and raucous seizure of center stage in my life.
What does it mean to die to oneself? How does it feel? Self denial is not a popular notion. Many of us may feel that we have already denied or been denied more than enough times already.
Yet I have been wondering if self-denial out of love for God and others may be the particular spiritual work and mark of a Christian in our age. For the survival of our species and a remnant of a civil society, we need people who willingly set aside their own needs and desires, who divest themselves of their power and privilege, and say to our neighbors of all species, “I must decrease, and you must increase.”
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Vol.32, No. 2 Summer 2021 Holy Ground