Word came this morning that my feisty Aunt Hazel Bowden, dad's little sister, has died in Bend, Oregon, at a ripe old age. She had been living at the far edge of her life for several years but was still full of life and tart reminders of how we Ketchams ought to be conducting ourselves.
When I made the decision to study for the UU ministry many years ago, Aunt Hazel was quick to tell me that she was sure my father, the Rev. Merritt B. Ketcham, was probably turning over in his grave at my defection from The True Faith. “I don’t know what you see in that Unitarian theology”, she wrote in her Christmas card. “It hurt your parents a lot when you left the Baptist church. I just don’t understand. Merry Christmas. Your loving aunt.”
Ouch. She was right, it had hurt my parents a lot when I left the Baptist church and I regretted that hurt. But it had given me a whole lot of comfort to leave behind a religious worldview that pinched, that gave little hope to those who lived outside its purview and to move into the practice of a faith that tried to include many points of view and to work for peace and justice in the world. I still considered myself a Christian, but not the kind of Christian Aunt Hazel would have preferred.
We managed to get past that confrontation and her love for me, the heretic, was undimmed. I'm sure she prayed for me regularly, which I appreciated, and I prayed for her too. And on my rare visits to Bend, we'd laugh about the old times, reminisce about my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Her husband Stan had died earlier and she missed him with every breath. Ken, their son, and Kay, his wife, were both gone now as well. And I imagine there's one heck of a Ketcham family reunion going on somewhere.
Because if my theory is on target, and who knows---it might be, we rise to a new level of understanding when we die. That seems big enough to me to encompass a whole lot of possibilities-----heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory, nirvana, bodhisattva-ness, reincarnation, whatever. Maybe even nothing-ness.
I guess it would be hubris to assume that, at the celestial Ketcham family reunion where all now have new understandings, I might finally be off the hook for my heretic heart. I'd like to assume that all my beloved family members, whose understanding of God is different from mine, now see that I'm right, that Unitarian Universalism really is the One True Faith and that I knew it all along.
But it's most likely that I too will rise someday to a new level of understanding and will see where all our yearnings and strivings and believings overlap and that I am no more right than they were--------and no more wrong.
Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.