Cold wind is stripping trees of their gold and green clothing, and my small garden looks more sad and bare with each day passing. Naked branches no longer hide the flock of sparrows at the feeder. Sometimes at night I can hear the distant farewell cry of Canada geese flying south.
Fall is the time of departures and reminds us of our inevitable parting with this earth, this time and space.
This month began with All Saints and All Souls Days, and my small display of photographs of those who are already "over there" and in need of prayer is drawing my attention more often now.
No matter how spiritual and connected to God we are, separation by death from dear ones always means suffering. The greater the love was, the deeper sorrow seems to be. We, the people of faith, at least have no reason for despair - we know we are immortal, that even though we leave this world behind, we continue living in a new world.
We, however, still have to face the question, or rather, questions: What is dying like? A gentle tug? A storm? A "journey towards the light"? And, assuming we are found worthy, how it really is there, in God's country, "over the horizon of life"? Where are those we have always loved, known, long for?
'Those who are considered worthy of the resurrection from the dead are like angels and are children of God.'
Luke 20.35-36Luke 20.35-36
We eagerly collect all information about life after death that we can find. Since deep antiquity there have been some, often doubtful, reports of the afterlife experiences of all kinds of "flatliners."
Some saints, too, have been granted visions of the afterlife, including heaven, hell and purgatory. They always found it very difficult to express what they "saw" in terms of human experience and language. Usually heaven is the hardest to describe, purgatory or hell less so.
We humans find suffering easier to describe. Heaven leaves us speechless, much like the beauty of the Virgin Mary or Jesus in visions of saints, usually defined as simply "inexpressible."
I love reading all attempts to "show" us our heavenly existence but the more I read, the more I value the simple honesty of the Gospels. There you will not find descriptions of physical bliss, no perpetual banqueting of mythical Islands of the Blessed, no greenery and laurel groves of ancient Elysium of Virgil.
If we are shown a wedding feast in context of the final reward and punishment, we know it is only a symbol, not reality.
St. Paul admits that we see our post mortem future as through the veil and, despite himself having been "taken to heaven" in a vision, he does not attempt to tear the veil down for us. "The eye has not seen, the ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love him" is the closest that we get in the way of the paradise.
It is obvious that in our present condition we are simply unable to comprehend the greatness of our future existence, its quality and also our duties in the new cosmic order.
Jesus talks about us as "children of this age" who "marry and remarry" and so live bound by biological rules of our species. Then he explains - in the simplest way possible - that a different age is coming. Those who are worthy to attain it and experience resurrection of the dead can no longer die; they are like angels, therefore the limitations of the material world do not bind them.
Characteristically, Jesus uses the present time to describe our state after resurrection which for us is future. Only God exists outside the boundaries of time and space, in the everlasting present.
The Gospels do not promise us heaven with never-ending dining in rose gardens complete with marble fountains and servants fulfilling our every wish. Jesus' teaching about what lies ahead of us after death is strictly limited to what we can comprehend. He teaches us, most of all by his own personal example of never-ending love that overcomes death and leads to resurrection. His are not empty promises.
So, no matter what happens on this side of life's horizon, all will be well and all matters of things will be well.