You are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen. 3:19)
Ghosts supposedly do not know they are dead, so they continue to haunt this world rather than move on to the next one. In a movie called The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who is shot by a former patient, now all grown up. We next see the psychologist, apparently fully recovered, working with a little boy who has been behaving strangely. The psychologist eventually wins his trust, and the boy reveals his secret. “I see dead people,” he says. The psychologist’s initial diagnosis, not surprisingly, is that his new patient is a very disturbed little boy. But as he continues to work with him, the psychologist begins to notice some eerie parallels to the former patient who had shot him. Digging back in his old case files, he comes across some tape recordings indicating that the former patient had also been tormented by ghosts. The psychologist had failed his patient by refusing to believe him. This time he has an opportunity to redeem himself by helping the boy to deal with his terrifying gift of clairvoyance.
It turns out the ghosts aren’t really trying to torment anyone. As the boy explains it, they see only what they want to see and con themselves into believing they are still alive. The boy is eventually able to help these lost souls come to terms with their true condition. But just when the movie is beginning to look like a heart-warming – if somewhat unconventional -- triumph of psychotherapy, there is a clever twist to the plot. Bruce Willis goes home to find his wife grieving over her lost husband. All the while he had been helping the boy come to terms with his clairvoyant gift, the boy had been preparing him to realize he was no longer there.
In an odd sort of way, the film dramatizes an essential truth about what we like to think of as our spiritual journey. We all start out secure in the knowledge that we exist, even if we sometimes wonder whether there truly is a God in heaven. As we become more and more convinced that God is real, we may begin to have doubts about the self that has long occupied stage center of our life. Eventually we may discover that the “I” we thought we were is no more substantial than Bruce Willis, who somehow missed the fact that he was dead.
We are drawn to God like a moth to a flame, with no more apprehension than the poor moth that only one will survive the encounter. "I had heard of you with my ears," Job tells the God who speaks to him from the whirlwind, "but now my eyes have seen you." God has revealed himself in his terrible majesty, but that is not all that Job has been shown. He has seen into himself as well and now knows the truth. "I am dust," he says. And so it is with everyone who draws too near to the flame. We think there can be no higher calling than to seek God, imagining that we will be ennobled by it. But what happens is beyond our imagining. Dust to dust, that is the arc of our mortal life; dust to dust, that is the arc of our spiritual life as well.
The Book of Job, translated by Stephen Mitchell.