Some of you will remember that during this church year, we have used the theme of "Great Questions of Human Living" and each month has dealt with a different question, ranging from "Who am I and what is my purpose?" to "How do I know what to believe?" and the like. This month's question has been "What does it mean that I am human and that I will die?"
On Mother's Day, my topic was "When our mothers die" and several afterwards said that it had been a chance for them to look at their relationship with their mother and to change it in some way. One person confided that a letter to her deceased mother had helped release her from some of the tension that had existed in that relationship.
Today we had three people from the congregation speak about their answers to the question of the month. One man is a scientist, an atheist, a person who respects alternate points of view on the subject but is firmly committed to his own: when we die, we die, and that's it, though we live on for a time in others' memory. One woman, in her 80's, is writing a book about preparing for death and shared her sense that there may be communication with our beloved dead in some way, that our lives must be made meaningful and fully lived, using the gifts of God, the Creative Source. And the third person spoke of a former-life experience which helped her understand some of the pain she'd experienced in this life.
Our choir sang beautifully, ending with the song "Zen Gospel Singing", to elevate the mood a bit. This is a rather poor recording of another group singing the song, but it's all I could find.
My own take on death is that we (I hope) rise to a new level of understanding, that the questions I have now about life and the reasons why my life has been the way it has, the failures and successes, the mysteries and the frustrations, will find some resolution in death. It may be that I will live on in my friends' and family's memory; I hope so. I hope somebody feels that their life has been happier because of our friendship or our kinship.
But these are all hopes. I don't actually KNOW anything. I have long ago let go of my fanciful ideas of heaven and hell. It may be that heaven exists in the form of golden streets and the like, at least for those who believe in such things. It may be that there is a parallel kind of hell, for those who believe they're going to such a place.
But I don't believe in a physical heaven or hell after death. I do believe that I have a responsibility to bring as much heaven to earth as I possibly can. And I do believe that I am quite capable of making my life a hell on earth, as well. By bringing help to those who are struggling, I make my own heaven (and perhaps theirs as well, to some extent) and by withholding love from others, I deprive myself of that heaven, as well as depriving them.
I'm glad they were the main attraction today, however. I thought they did a spectacular job of revealing some very personal ideas and thoughts to a congregation of friends and strangers. I'm grateful to them for their courage and creativity.