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At 7:30 A.M., I awoke with this dream:

Suddenly, I’m aware of giggling and being hugged by my five-year old brother Mark, his warm body wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals, the cowlick at his hairline giving him a striking appearance.

I’ll never know if “Mark” really visited me, or whether he represents a projection of the happy child from my unconscious. Either way, I perceive the dream as gift to be cherished.

He passed on July 21, 2017.

I miss him …

Restoration specialists use precise tools to remove accretions of paint-overs, dust, and discoloration.

Such a specialist in the academic world is Reza Aslan, author of Zealot – The Life and Times of Jesus (2013)—research, his tool to fashion the historical Jesus within first-century Palestine, a large swath of the Roman-occupied Middle East filled with messiahs and Jewish bandits, and their subsequent executions.

Aslan’s skill as a writer enhances this narrative. Each chapter’s accompanying notes, index, bibliography, maps, and chronology facilitate the readers’ tracking and amplifying his conclusions. And they are startling, in some instances major corrections to my sense of Jesus, illiterate day laborer and itinerant preacher with his followers. The violent backdrop of this story bristles with suspicion and terror—a world, like our own.

Roman history only records Jesus’s birth in 4 B.C.E – 6 C.E., and his crucifixion and death as a seditionist at the hands of Pontius Pilate in 30 – 33 C.E. In its aftermath, a handful of Jesus’s followers banded together beneath a portico in the Temple’s outer court to remember and share the story.

Further complicating this incipient picture of Jesus comes Paul of Tarsus in 37 C.E., self-proclaimed as the “first Apostle.” His preaching and letters to Hellenistic communities clashed with the “unsophisticated” Church of Jerusalem, then, headed by James, the brother of Jesus, another surprise.

For decades, oral tradition continued carrying Jesus’s story until 70 C.E when Mark first wrote his Gospel expressed in rudimentary Greek; the other Gospels Mathew and Luke, written separately from each other, between 90 and 100 C.E.; and John’s with a mystical bent, between 100 and 120 C.E. Among them, differences abound. Later during those first centuries, what others thought they had heard became woven into other varied canonical and non-canonical texts collected by copyists.

As the story of Jesus spread, so did the need to downplay his ignominious death on the cross and to cookie-cutter a more presentable Jesus for the Christian Church, thus its politicization under the fourth-century Emperor Constantine. But what Aslan produces is a zealous adherent of Torah teachings and practice—Jesus of Nazareth, caught within the cross-hairs of Imperialistic Rome and its sycophants in first-century Jerusalem. His spirit and teaching live on—it’s still about conversion of the heart.

It was 1880, the hardest year in the life of Ivan Ilyich, the protagonist in The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), a novella written by Leo Tolstoy. Its depiction of illness morphing into the shock of death has become a classic. Its dynamics find resonance in today’s experience of dying/death, my own, as well.

An injury from a fall and the persistent foul taste in his mouth compel Ivan to seek medical help, but none of the three specialists concur on the cause of his symptoms. Instead, they prescribe ineffective tonics that exacerbate his obsessive thoughts and worsen his pain.

Months pass with Ivan’s body wasting atop his sofa, his face to its back. Slowly, the specter of his death surfaces, and with it, more obsessing for the life he once had: Chief Magistrate of the High Court, bridge player, husband and father, in name only. From isolation and loneliness spur even more painful questions, all unanswered.

Mercifully, two hours before his passing, Ivan hears a different voice from his psyche questioning his fear of death. In its place, there is light. “So that’s what it is! What joy!” exclaims Ivan Ilyich. “Death is finished. It is no more.” Thus he passes.

Within Ivan’s experience, I saw my obsessive thinking, until grounded within the discipline of CPA’s Twelve Steps. His search for a fix for his symptoms recalled my own doctoring and disappointments for years. His depression, self-pity, loneliness, fears, sleepless nights, also mirrored my own, prior to my signing on to hospice eight months ago.

Unlike Ian Ilyich, however, contentment supports the waiting for my true home from whence I came, over eighty-four years ago. Yet, I’ve still much to learn … if allotted the time.

 

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