(You may view video of these meditations here)
What is your understanding of what happens after death? How does that help you live with less fear? Or does it?
I’ve posed this question among our church community this past week, and last week I also posed a big question about death and life. The responses I’ve received from you have been very earnest and searching and wise and they’ve all included stories about experiences folks have had around death. No one seemed to be too interested in abstract speculation about the afterlife, but rather everyone was coming from a real heartfelt place – and this question brought up for many people very real, personal, tender experiences.
Many folks told stories about being with loved ones as they died, or a couple of you who work as nurses or work in hospice shared what you’ve observed and learned in accompanying people through their last days and moments of life and being present for their deaths and being present for the moments and days after death. Many of you shared about changes that people go through leading into death, sometimes surprising. Coming in to a state of peace, of graciousness, release of grievances, release of fears. Witnessing someone opening to a different realm, a spiritual realm, sometimes even in ways that seem out of character, as they journey into death.
Some folks have shared how after the death of a loved one they’ve experienced their presence, even what you could call visitations, that were experiences of saying goodbye, and experiences of deep reassurance.
These seems quite common experiences, though we don’t often talk about them.
These sorts of things seem to be clues as to what may be awaiting us on the other side.
As someone put it to me,
“I have no idea what happens after “death,” though as a nurse I’ve had the unbelievable honor, a few times, of being at the bedside as an irreplaceable human passes through the veil. I’ve come into increasing peace as I learn to lean into the mystery, and be ok with not knowing.”
Someone else shared a song, “Let the mystery be.”
At the same time, I need to share with you that two folks shared with me their experiences of themselves nearly dying where they entered into heavenly realms resounding with love – where there they shared the presence of loved ones who were kinds of embryonic light beings. They both said that it’s an act of trust to share the stories of their near-death experiences, because they’ve found that some people can react in a very dismissive way. One of the honors and privileges of being a Pastor is that people entrust us with tender things they tend to keep close and ponder in their hearts. And it’s just astonishing how many people from all walks of life have had extraordinary experiences of opening to the Divine.
The extraordinary is actually ordinary – what is real is simply real, even if it seems to be beyond the bounds of what we may permit to be real.
This is why spiritual practice, why activities of prayer, can be helpful – ways of being that ease us out of our habits and open to the wider horizons of heaven and earth. So, what we’re going to offer now is a kind of visual tone poem that weaves images and music and sound and silence along with words from scripture and from saints and Christian luminaries.
“In death we are caught up, overwhelmed, dominated by that divine power which lies within the forces of inner disintegration and, above all, within that irresistible yearning which will drive the separated soul on to complete its further, predestined journey as infallibly as the sun causes the mists to rise from the water on which it shines. Death surrenders us completely to God; it makes us pass into God. In return we have to surrender ourselves to it, in love and in the abandon of love …”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“When God sees the Soul pure as it was in its origins, God tugs at it with a glance
Draws it and binds it to Godself with a fiery love
That by itself could annihilate the immortal soul.
In so acting, God so transforms the soul in God
That it knows nothing other than God.
And God continues to draw it up into God’s fiery love
Until God restores it
To that pure state from which it first issued.
These rays purify and then annihilate.
The soul becomes like gold
That becomes purer as it is fired,
All dross being cast out.”
St. Catherine of Genoa
“Listen, now: I am going to tell you a wondrous secret: We are all not going to die, rather we are all going to be transformed, in an instant, in a blink of the eye at the sound of the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we too will be transformed. Because this perishable human must be clothed with the imperishable, and this mortal human must be clothed with immortality. And when the perishable is clothed with the imperishable and the mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying this is written will come true:
Death has been engulfed in victory.
Where, O Death, has your victory gone?
Where, O Death, is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:51-55
“With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in God, all things in heaven and things on earth.”
“If others go to hell, then I will too. But I do not believe that; on the contrary I believe that all will be saved, myself with them – something which arouses my deepest amazement.”
“In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.“
St. Isaac the Syrian
“I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, nothing in the present or in the future, nothing from fallen angels nor from earthly authorities nor from any other powerful force, nothing above the earth nor below the earth, nor any other created thing that can separate us from the love of God that has been made known to us through the Anointed Jesus, our lord.”
“Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing;
God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing; God alone fills all her needs”
Teresa of Avila