Tag Archives: mortality

You’re Already Dead

25 Apr

At Smiles Entertainment Center in Milford, Connecticut (now closed), there once stood a Japanese arcade game called Fighting Mania: Fist of the North Star. Players donned faux boxing gloves and hit small, sturdy bags that’d light up in front of a screen, battling ever-stronger enemies in some silly, forgettable storyline.

Every dumb detail presented an excuse to hit things really fast, really hard. I had some fun with it. But whenever I lost the game, as I inevitably did, I heard some puzzling words. While I fumbled for more quarters, the narrator always exclaimed:

“You’re already dead!”

Poor translations aside, there’s a poignancy in this uncommon assembly of words. The intonation didn’t suggest disappointment in my skills (i.e., “I can’t believe you’re already dead; you suck at this game.”). Rather, it was more matter of fact (i.e., “You are dead. Yes, you actually are.”). The “already” indicated I was mistaken in my assumptions: I thought I’d die in the future, but here it is, right now, surprise! I’m dead already.

There’s a potency to this idea, not merely of the immanence of our death, which appears in so many kinds of thoughtful reflections, religious and secular alike, but of the present state of our death. It plays a critical role in the Nag Hammadi text, The Treatise on the Resurrection, in which the narrator writes to his pupil, Rheginos, in order to calm his concerns about life after death. Turning the worry about death’s inevitability inside-out, the unnamed author writes:

For if he who will die knows about himself that he will die – even if he spends many years in this life, he is brought to this – why not consider yourself as risen and (already) brought to this?

What would it mean to live as if one were dead already? Is this a useful technique to quell anxiety, honest in its attitude about the impermanence inherent in all life? Or is it grotesque, denying the very freedom that death demarcates but never dominates? Is it liberating or limiting? Or both?

I’m a fan of the idea myself. There’s a usefulness in sitting with this strange paradox that pushes against our understanding of ourselves: how can I be dead, too? I’m alive. What can it mean to be both?

Among Things in Flux

18 Jan

[This follows up on last week’s post on the Acts of Andrew. Enjoy!]

After Andrew preaches for three days while hanging on his cross, his two-thousand strong supporters rally to rescue him from death. Struck by “the adamance of his thought, the sheer abundance of his words, the value of his exhortation, the stability of his soul” (the list goes on: you get the idea), they run off to the tribunal to protest his execution.

And the people actually win. Rather than face a revolt, the ruling powers release the holy man. And there was much rejoicing, right?

Not from Andrew. Angry and frustrated, he yells at his would-be saviors: “O, how many times I have prayed that I might lift them from these filthy habits… Why this excessive fondness for the flesh? Why this great complicity with it? Do you again encourage me to be put back among things in flux?”

Unwilling to be taken down from his cross, Andrew reads the crowd’s protest at his death sentence as “fondness for the flesh.” Life is fleeting; get out posthaste. He’s shocked that this interpretation of his extended and exhausting preaching sessions didn’t reach his attentive audience.

After such a thoughtful series of questions and reflections on the transience of life, escape is Andrew’s only solution. Instead of offering suggestions on how to live in the messy, ephemeral world, Andrew desires to avoid it entirely.

Suicide is the great answer for those of us “in flux”? How disappointing.

Conversations with Crosses

11 Jan

I want to love the Acts of Andrew. It’s one of the few Acts that’s actually fun to read throughout, with its titillating, platonic love triangle that leads to our hero’s martyrdom. Even better than the tame soap opera stuff, Andrew’s speeches are actually quite moving to this cynic. They’re filled with incisive philosophical musings that go beyond the usual “yay celibacy” and also, “praise Jesus” proclamations I’ve come to expect in these texts.

While the Gospel of Peter gives us a talking cross, the Acts of Andrew offers one that listens. Brought to his fated cross, Andrew greets the “weary” wood, and says  it can rest now that he’s finally arrived: “Greetings, O cross! … though you have been weary for a long time… now at last you can rest.” Empathizing with his means of execution, Andrew, who likewise has “been weary for so long,” is eager to rest with the cross. Adding one more strange romance to the list, it seems so sweet that they’re together at last.

Bound, but not nailed, to the cross (lest he seem too Christ-like), Andrew addresses a massive crowd from his literal post. He criticizes worldviews that sound much more modern than ancient, monologuing at length:

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