The Rev. Janice Ford
The Church of the Reconciliation (Episcopal)
A lot of people ask me about death and dying. I find this a little ironic considering that I have no more knowledge of dying than any other living person in the world. Even asking someone with a terminal illness about dying would not provide much firsthand information. The sickest of the sick are no closer to dying than any of us given the fact that none of us knows when or where it will happen. The healthiest person’s life can be snuffed out in an instant. Undoubtedly, people living with a terminal illness may think about dying more than the rest of us, but the fact remains that for as long as there is breath in our bodies, we are all on a very level playing field when it comes to death.
The aspect of dying that concerns us most is fear of the unknown. For all our speculation, we simply do not know what happens when our bodies cease to function, and we are no longer alive in this space and time. Those who have had “near death” experiences have recounted a feeling of peace and calm, seeing a “bright light,” and not wanting to return to their bodies. From a scientific perspective, some wonder if these are truly experiences of death, or simply the body’s response to a prolonged lack of oxygen. It is unlikely we will ever truly know, and so we are left with that unrelenting fear of leaving this life, and heading to something we cannot even begin to imagine.
When folks ask me about death, they typically begin by quoting things from Scripture and/or the things they were taught as children. They want to know about the final judgment (can we truly repent at the last second). They want to know if I think heaven is a place (surely God would not be limited in that way). They want to know if I think there are any people in hell (if God is truly merciful). They want to know if they will have the same body (if we are raised from the dead).
I can only assure people of three things: 1) No one can answer any of these questions with absolute certainty; 2) I have asked all of these questions myself, and; 3) I am certain of nothing except that when our time in these bodies is over, we will experience God in a way we simply cannot know in this life.
It is clear to me that the reason people ask me about death and dying is not because they really expect me to have answers, but because they know I am a person of faith. Believers want comfort from other believers. We want reassurance that our faith is not in vain. So, here is what I know about death: The logistics of dying do not really matter because when we are experiencing them it will be too late to be concerned. Our focus will be on the rapture of being in the presence of Almighty God—whatever that is, and in whatever form it comes. The best way to prepare for death—and we must ALWAYS be prepared to die—is to live every minute as if it will be our last. I say this not to be morbid or obsessive, but rather to emphasize that our hope is not in this life, but in the life to come.
- Wednesday, 11 July 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Religion