The Journey of the Soul
When you are secure in your soul, what’s to fear? -Ram Das
On a day like this when I have just been told that not one, but two people I love have just received the dreaded sentence: Incurable. And my hometown of Nashville is shrouded in grief for all the unnecessary goodbyes and loss in Las Vegas—I metamorphose into a character straight out of a Camus novel. I run to the edges of the universe wild-eyed and holler a soliloquy to shock the angels. I prostrate myself before God and start begging, bartering and weeping because I simply cannot bear this awful ending. It is in these fragile moments that I especially feel my mortality and long to flip ahead in the Book of Life to the epilogue for a clue as to what we can expect in the hereafter.
The great theologian, Paul Tillich, said all human beings suffer from the fear of finitude. Not only do we fear and grieve the end of life as we know it, but we especially fear the unknown, the uncharted, the undocumented. This is where Death appears to have us by the jugular.
I have led and attended enough funerals to know that every single person in attendance, especially myself, is hoping that suddenly the lights will dim, a screen will lower and God will play the movie trailer for Eternity. Imagine the excitement and the relief if we got a glimmer of the next chapter in the life of the soul.
I seek divine guidance for how I am to make peace with the goodbyes, my own mortality and the uncertainty of what comes next. I do trust God, but I am also human and struggle with change, loss, evil and the unknown. I cling to scriptures like Psalm 139 where God promises to be with me wherever I go and with whatever I must face.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me fast; I come to the end-and there You are.
Maybe its the wanderlust in me, but I do fancy my “hereafter” travel itinerary found in the Gospel of John. Jesus says in his house (I’m betting it’s 5-star) there are many rooms, and there will be a room prepared just for every soul.
I’ll never forget my first funeral as an adolescent. The minister described heaven as the 18th green at the Masters. He said, “Just imagine, you’ve played the game of your life and you’re coming up the 18th green to the cheers of everyone you have ever loved.” A happy thought indeed to enjoy again those who loved me well in life and then get to put on the green sports coat with the angel insignia and join the party. This is the child in me that longs for happily-ever-after’s. I am older now and because I have had more time to experience how beautiful, creative and mysterious life truly is here, I’m more convinced than ever that God has pure magic up the divine sleeve. It is because of what I call “heaven on earth glimmers,” where love is ripe and the soul is swollen by all the beauty, that I know God must have something quite extraordinary in store for the soul next.
Call me a dreamer or call me soul-aware, but somewhere in my depths I know as Jesus must surely have known, that the ‘true of true’ of me was created for infinitudes. We see life in beginnings and endings, but for God the story of the soul is one beautiful, creative, love-saturated continuation. Now this “enlightened” knowledge does not protect us from facing Death or watching those we love endure the inevitable, but it does put our lives into a Divine perspective.
I return to Jesus’ life, death and hereafter to glean clues of how I am to take my leave of this world. Jesus certainly did not escape a duel with Death. There were tears, blood-sweating, pain, doubts and grieving, but there was also an incredible display of surrender. I believe this was Jesus’ parting gift to us as if to say, “You can trust, God’s good for it.”
God is master of the long view and hopes we will do the same. That is the secret to living abundantly in the present. Once you believe that the soul will go on, you are set free to steep in this earthly experience. There is no time for fear because you are on your unique and extraordinary mission, one where holy wisdom informs each leg of the journey. You begin to ask questions! What is it I am supposed to see, to experience, to learn and to love while I am here? What is my purpose which only I am meant to fulfill? And then there is the fun part: How much beauty, joy and love can my one soul absorb in my allotted stay?
Here are the facts: God measures life in infinitudes. Birth and death are not the bookends for the story of the soul. The soul is not bound by time and space as we understand it. There are no true goodbyes. Grief is a necessary byproduct of a soul loving well. One day we will all face down death. What comes next, we can judge by our very best day here on earth. Then we have a soul dream of the future glory. If Jesus is the model then we must assume—anticipate—the transformation…transfiguration…resurrection in store for us all.
To live in hope is to live abundantly in the here and now and to meet death, not as the finale, but as the curious door that once you step through, begins the next adventure.
Standing at a friend’s graveside recently I whispered a closing Benediction. I imagined an angel turning the page in The Book of Life and smiling. Because she knows what lies ahead for you and for me!
Live in Hope,