Written on: June 17, 2016
The columns for this section of the Bucks County Courier Times are under the category “From a Faith Perspective.” However, grief challenges faith. Oh, we are very good at finding handy phrases to articulate what we used to believe or want to believe.
“God closes a door and opens a window.”
“God has a plan for us; we just can’t see it yet.”
“She is at peace and watching over you,” and on and on.
But grief challenges faith. All the letting go that prepares us for the final letting go tends to undermine what was once easy to recite: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Christians profess belief in eternal life, the life of the world to come. In the Catholic funeral rite, we hear the words:
In him, who rose from the dead,
our hope of resurrection dawned.
The sadness of death gives way
to the bright promise of immortality.
Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.
When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death
we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.
I cannot know how many times I have listened to a priest pray these words, but they are very familiar to me. Now, though, having recently held the box of my sister’s ashes, having reviewed every email message I could find from her and every photo she sent me, now, having wept with her husband at the memory of her last breath and all the moments — in “sickness and in health” — they shared and we shared together, now I find my faith wavering. Where is this dwelling place in heaven? How is it possible that Mary’s life is only changed, not ended?
A friend gave me a tiny pot with some kind of miracle soil and many tiny cosmos seeds just after I had returned from Florida where I’d shared my sister’s last days.
I ignored them for a while, but finally read the instructions, prepared the soil, and pushed into it the hard, dry seeds. They waited only a short while before they rose up on a green sprig, challenging my unbelief, inviting me to return to faith.
In my mind — perhaps in my heart as well, at least gradually — I do share the belief of Christians that my sister’s life is changed, not ended. I believe that her ashes — though sacred because they were the body of her earthly dwelling — do not contain her spirit. I believe that she lives on, somehow, in a mystery I cannot fathom, but do treasure, in God, the source of all life. Not in some place up in the clouds or beyond the space station. I don’t see her looking down on us, as some would say. Rather, she is in all of us for whom she gave visible expression to God’s love. She is in God now and I believe that God is everywhere in the universe.
The horror of Sunday’s massacre in Orlando and the complexity of the killer’s motivation find us experiencing many different emotions. When all is said and done, though, hundreds of people will be left with the same questions with which I am struggling in the wake of my sister’s death. Where is my loved one now? What do I believe about immortality? How does the oneness of all creation reveal itself in the way I find my loved one present to me everywhere?
As we pray for all the victims and their families and loved ones, as we pray for the LGBT community as well as peaceful people of faith throughout our nation and the world, let us ask God to help us let go of those ideas and images that no longer serve to comfort and console. Let us ask God to reveal to us now some inkling of how we remain linked forever to those whom we have loved and who have loved us.
Sister Eileen White is a member of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart and a frequent contributor to From A Faith Perspective in the Bucks County Courier Times. Her article is re-published here with their permission.