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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Death...what happens next?

Parker Palmer is an author I've appreciated and respected for many years. He is now approaching 80 and his recent book is called On the Brink of Everything.
It is really a collection of essays on various aspects of ageing. The section I found most thought-provoking include his thoughts on what happens when we die:

"I learned long ago how much I do not know, so I won't be shocked if death has surprises in store for me. But amid all my not knowing, I'm certain of two things: when we die, our bodies return to the earth, and the earth knows how to turn death into new life. When my own small life ends in some version of wind and fire, my body will be transformed by the same alchemy that keeps making all things new, witness this wilderness. [Note: Palmer makes an annual pilgrimage to a remote area called Boundary Waters where he observes nature's rhythms.] As the medieval alchemists dreamed, dross will be turned into gold.
        It matters not to me whether I am resurrected in a loon calling from the lake, a sun-glazed pine, a wildflower on the forest floor, the stuff that fertilizes those trees and flowers, or the Northern Lights and the stars that lie beyond them. It's all good and it's all gold, a vast web of life in which body and spirit are one.
        I won't be glad to say goodbye to life, to challenges that help me grow, to gifts freely given, or to everyone  and everything I love. But I'll be glad to play a bit part in making new life possible for others. That's a prospect that makes life worth dying for.
       Twenty annual pilgrimages to this holy place called the Boundary Waters have convinced me that Julian of Norwich got it right: 'All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.' "

Like Palmer I am more and more aware of what I don't know. I certainly don't claim to know what happens when we die. Traditional notions of heaven and hell may serve a metaphorical purpose but they don't serve me well in any definitive way now. I'm not saying I agree - or disagree - with Palmer in what he writes above. But I am drawn to his observation that "our bodies return to the earth and the earth knows how to turn death into new life." I certainly believe in resurrection - but exactly what that means or looks like I really don't know. I am happy to trust the Creator of this marvellous universe to maintain the flow of life - death - life. If nature is "God's other book", as has often been said, it is constantly putting that reality before our eyes.