Sometimes I feel my mother’s presence. Trudy died in 1995. So I’ll understand if you write this off to nostalgia or attribute it to my imagination or explain it as the byproduct of a memory triggered by some melancholic tune on my playlist.
My thoughts, however, run in a different direction. She’s alive—and we’re profoundly connected—in some way that I fumble to articulate. I cannot prove that this is true and have no intention of offering logical arguments for believing in life after death.
Instead, I invite you to wonder along with me about a mystery that Christians profess: the resurrection. We live. We die. And in some way we live again.
Let’s start by considering what Jesus said about the resurrection. In his day, like in ours, there were competing views about life after death. Luke records an exchange that Jesus had with the Sadducees. They did not believe in the resurrection and offered an argument intended to show that accepting the idea of the resurrection leads to logical absurdities. (Luke 20:27-32)
Jesus then responded with this:
The fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive. (Luke 20:37-38)
God is the God of the living. We live because God loves us. God’s love is the power that brings us into and sustains us in existence. In this life and in the next. To riff on the 18th Century philosopher and bishop George Berkeley, to be is to be loved and to give love. God’s love never ends. And we live so long as we receive that love and impart it to others.
The philosopher Martin Buber says that we humans can speak two basic words, inhabit two fundamental ways of being: I-It and I-You. These words are pairs. You cannot simply say “I” or “It” or “You.” To be an “I” is always to be in relationship. If I speak I-It, I belong to the world of things. I’m an objectified sex object or an economically quantifiable commodity.
A spiritual being speaks “I-You.” Here’s how Buber puts it:
The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You. (Martin Buber, I and Thou, p. 61)
Receiving love from the eternal lover and giving that love away is eternal life. Saying that God loves us is more than a report about God’s emotional state. Rather, God the Holy Spirit inhabits us. Dwells within us. God weaves God’s self into our lives. In turn, by loving one another we actively participate in God’s life. In eternal life.
In the Episcopal Church we pray that, at death, life is changed, not ended. God’s love has been gradually changing us into what we have been meant to be all along. One with God and one with all whom God loves.
When I feel my mother’s presence, it is this oneness in the divine love that I’m sensing. I’m brushing up against what the Apostles’ Creed calls the communion of saints. Or stumbling over what the Celts call thin places. These words from a prayer attributed to Bede Jarrett resonate with me, perhaps they will with you: “Life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon.”
So, what happens when you die? Honestly, I’m not certain. But I have a powerful feeling about it.
Thank you again and again and again. Your words never fail to warm my heart. Blessings, Noel
Thanks, Noel! I’m glad we’re walking this road together!
There seems to be a loosening of the borders which define our human bodies when death separates us from loved ones. I found this to be true when I lost my mother in 2000. And three months ago, when my friend of over thirty years died, I once again experienced a “loosening” of borders. Both of these women are closer with my spirit, now. And I anticipate the growing discoveries which are promised. As Frederick Buechner has written: “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”
Thanks for that reflection, Kimberly. And thanks also for the lovely words from Buechner.
When Jim had brain cancer and we passed the day his father died (January 17), I felt his father’s presence. It was the weirdest thing, but I felt like from that day on, he was walking with us, and his presence gave me great consolation. It was about that time in January that Jim began his final decline, and he, too, felt his father’s presence. His dad had died 13 years earlier (from cancer) and Jim remembered his dad as not being afraid. He said his dad’s presence helped him to face his death without fear (and Jim died awake, so he truly was unafraid). Because Jim and my friend Ted were such close friends and such powerful influences in my life, I still hear their voices in my head and turn to them when I am discerning something.
What a tender, powerful story! Thank you, Madeline. Your experience resonates with mine.
Dear Jake; I have long understood death to be the gateway to fuller life with God. remembering that Jesus, after his death, proceeded to the ‘place of the Dead’. When speaking to the ‘good thief’ on the Cross, Jesus promised him that “Today you will be with me in Paradise” – not Heaven, but Paradise (is this a place of both Rest and growth in purification by God who alone can do that work?).
Saint Paul in 1 Cor.15 has some further wisdom when he writes, in verses 15-58, that “When this perishable nature puts on imperishability, and when this mortal nature has put on immortality, then………”.
In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 13 – 18, Paul says that “At the trumpet of God,….the Lord himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them – to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord forever”.
Then Paul indicates that the ‘afterlife’ may just be something too difficult for us poor humans to understand, so he adds this codicil: “WITH SUCH THOUGHTS AS THESE, YOU SHOULD COMFORT ONE ANOTHER!” –
I personally have taken that last instruction literally (although I am not a ‘Sola Scriptura’ advocate, I just think that our future is in God – and this was Paul’s best way of explaining it. (Agape, Fr.Ron)
Ron+, I draw upon that same comfort. And all of this really is beyond my ability to articulate or even imagine adequately.
This was very timely, helpful, and hopeful. Thank you.
Thank you! I agree that we can’t know on this side of our lives, but I believe that we will be in God’s presence after our deaths.
This is one of my favorite things that you have ever written and I totally agree! Madeline L’Engle’s book THE SUMMER OF THE GREAT GRANDMOTHER affirms these glorious truths! Thanks so much! Deacon Belle
Thank you Jake, inspiring words to ponder..
John 17 3 came to mind after reading them..
God bless you