At the End of the Line
I'm a uni-tasker (though auto-spell wants to change that to "uni-talker," which I suppose I am as well!). I can only really concentrate on one thing at a time. Some will say it's a gender thing. I don't know about that. I think it may be an intelligence thing. But trying to do both a weekly blog and a weekly podcast, on different subjects, is too much for my insubstantial and unreliable grey matter. So I've decided to link them together.
I already moved in this direction when I began embedding a link to the podcast at the conclusion of the blog. That was experimental. But now, I want to do this more intentionally. I want both the blog and the podcast to be covering the same ground. The blog will remain a two-minute teaser you could easily read, say, in the bathroom. The podcast will be an expanded version, something you can listen to while driving in your car or through ear buds, while pretending to listen to someone you find tiresome.
This week, for instance, both here and on the podcast, I want to open the topic of death and dying. Here, I will simply pose the questions for us to think about. In this week's podcast, my guest Tara Livingston helps do that for us, in an engaging conversation where we share our stories of "good grief," "bad funerals," and what happens to us when we die.
In some spiritual traditions, resolving the questions around death and dying, especially the fears we feel in that connection, is the foundation for building a spiritual life. In the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, contemplating in detail one's own death was considered the bedrock for living one's full life.
A friend of mine, following not the Ignatian Exercises but his own intuition, took this a step further. In a supportive gathering, he declared himself dead, said good-bye (through surrogates) to people who had been significant in his life, and then had someone place a sheet over his body. He said he actually grew wan and deathlike in appearance. Then the group reflected together about end of life issues. Something in that enactment freed my friend to enter the next stage of his life unencumbered by past burdens and regrets.
It sounds morbid, but facing death actually helps us face life. The core of the Christian proclamation is about this very thing. Death is not the end. It is followed by resurrection. In fact, one way to understand the spiritual life is as a lifelong series of deaths, in the form of daily hurts and disappointments, griefs and sorrows, all preparing us for that big letting go at the end when we will be ushered not into a void, but into whatever new life awaits us on the other side.
This is why I want to explore this topic over the next few weeks. And not theoretically, or theologically, as if the church has already given us all the answers we will ever need; rather, anecdotally, as if we already know what we need to know through the stories we've heard and the experiences we've had and the natural intuitions we possess. Death is, after all, part of life, as paradoxical as it is to put it like that.
So, here are some of the questions that guided my conversation with Tara ...
What funerals do you remember, as being either particularly helpful, or perhaps the opposite?
What's your own experience of grief--both "good grief" and the other kind?
What's been your own experience of the passing of loved ones?
Have you had experiences that suggest that life carries on, on the other side of death?
What do you think happens to us when we die?
This week on The Mystic Cave podcast: At the End of the Line--A Conversation with Tara Livingston.