Opening Into The Light

Writing “Stories About Death” recently got me thinking about my own personal story. What do I think, have faith in, about what will happen to me when I die?

“Think” is of the mind, “have faith in” is of the heart. I do not believe that the mind can help us much with such a question. It is a poor tool for relating to the infinite.

What does my heart tell me?

I do not fear dying, although I have some trepidation about what might lead up to it.

I feel quite sure my spirit will not die with my body, that I will go on in some way.

I cannot credit the concept of hell, an eternal inferno torturing the lost forever. In all my years of searching, praying, meditation, what I have learned with certainty—if anything can be certain—it is that God is Love.

Being burned is excruciating pain. If we are burned in our human bodies, we either recover or we die. One way or the other, it is over. That the Love I know as God could inflict that level of pain on any of Its creatures for eternity is unthinkable to me. Such a concept can only be the projection onto God of the worst of human perversity, a tool used by earthly authorities to control through fear.

There is hell enough on Earth. Daniel, the minister in my novel The Purest Gold, realizes at last, after almost destroying his family over his concerns about salvation, that hell is being cut off from God and that it is not God but we ourselves that create such separation. The minister in the novel Gillead, says, “If you want to inform yourself as to the nature of hell, don’t hold your hand in the candle flame. Just ponder the meanest, most desolate place in your soul.”

In spite of my regrets about the many failings in my life, I do not fear going to hell when I die. I’ve already been there, and Love has lifted me out.

Some years ago, I had a recurring image in meditation of a ocean of Light, ecstasy that made me weep, color, flow, music of the spheres, a limitless sea, and I a bubble within it. What greater heaven could there be than bursting and becoming One with such beauty?

But perhaps I am not ready. Reincarnation seems a likely hypothesis for me. I have had what seemed to be memories of other lifetimes, strong and clear, echoing within me in a way that felt that they must be true. My almost-finished novel, The Purest Gold, is based on such a memory. And off and on throughout my life I have met strangers that I felt I knew, knew really well, though I had never encountered them before in this lifetime.

Who knows? I have a vivid imagination. After all, I’m a novelist. I could have made it  up. But it doesn’t feel that way.

I like the idea of reincarnation because now that I’m old, I’m finally figuring out so much that I wish I had known earlier when I was a young wife, a young mother, and later, when I was an impatient, busy, middle-aged woman caring for my mother. I have hope all this learning might bear fruit, that I might have another chance, that in some way I can carry the hard-won wisdom of this lifetime forward, that little by little I may become a clearer channel.

The only sad part of the reincarnation story is that it may take me many lifetimes.   Perhaps it will take a long time before the walls of my bubble become thin enough to burst and free me into the ocean of light.

But I trust. I have faith that the Love, the Light, that continuously creates, enfolds, and enlivens me and all creation, will hold me still when my body dies.

As I washed the dishes this evening, I found myself humming a chant we used to sing in the sweat lodge—

“We all come from One,

And unto One we shall return,

Like a ray of light

Returning to the sun,

Like a stream flowing back,

To the ocean.”

Stories About Death

One of the greatest challenges of being incarnate on planet Earth is facing the mystery of death.

We know what happens to the body. We can see it, smell it, deal with it, though we may grieve. But the spirit? What happens to that? What lies on the other side of the dark door of death?

We don’t know.

So we create stories.

One story says it is all over when the body dies. The elusive essence we call spirit dies, too. It is the end. There is nothing more. Some respond to this idea by grabbing to get theirs while they can, since they believe there will be no consequences. Others say that, if indeed all ends with the death of the body, they must live a life of service and integrity, do their very best in the time that they have.

But most stories say that even after the body dies, the spirit does live on. Perhaps we become part of nature. In my novel Never Again, as Lenny is dying he says to Clara, “Maybe I’ll sink into the earth, like your Elirians, and become part of all that is, the trees, the grass, maybe a rabbit that nibbles the grass, then maybe a coyote.”

Some religions say there is a heaven and a hell, and only if we meet certain conditions can we go to heaven. Otherwise we are doomed to suffer for eternity. Hindus and Buddhists, say we will be born again—and again and again— on the wheel of reincarnation until we have learned all life’s lessons and  become so purified that we can return to God.

Throughout history and in all cultures there are stories about death. But what happens when the stories from one culture conflict with those of another? There can be terrible results.

Clara explains to the Elirians. “Many become frightened when they hear a story different from their own, because if that story is true, then maybe theirs isn’t. They may become so afraid they kill the ones whose story is different from theirs.”

“You kill over a story?” one of the Elirians asked, her dark eyes wide with shock.

“Yes,” Clara answered,because we are afraid. Because it is unknown. Much of the violence on Earth is because we fear death. We fight over things that we hope will protect us from death, but in the end nothing does. We walk on the brink of the unknown and try to hide from it, deny it. But inside we all know we will die, and most of us are afraid.”

How then do we face death in a sacred manner? Certainly not by going to war over our stories as we have for millennia. The grief and destruction of such wars create right here on Earth the hell that many fear in the afterlife.

I could blog every week for a year and still not touch all that can be explored about relating to death in a sacred manner. And I will write more in the weeks to come.

For now let me simply say I believe we must live in love. Whatever story we hold closest to our hearts, we must also allow and respect the stories of others.

The truth is we don’t know.

So let us face the wonder of the mystery with trust, awe, and curiosity.