10/20/2005: In the Ever-after...
Now, I get these update e-mails from Bishop Spong and some of them are most illuminating or cover topics that everyone wonders about - or at least those who wonder about religious issues at all *wink* do muse about.
Here is an interesting tid-bit from a recent e-mail:
"Michael from Dayton, Ohio writes:
"My question for you concerns prayer that is directed to those other than the ultimate God. People pray to humans who have moved on to whatever happens after death - to Jesus of Nazareth, to Mary his mother, and to the vast litany of saints, many of whom have been declared patrons of causes, events and professions. All of these are, or were, human beings who have passed over the threshold of death. Does not this type of prayer assume the immortality of the individual human spirit or soul? What are your thoughts on the existence, activity and power of the individual soul/spirit after death? For example, I admire the writings of Thomas Jefferson but I don't try to contact him in his "other world" for enlightenment. Why should I pray to St. Cecelia to help me play the right notes or to St. Jude for some lost cause, or to St. Mary to intercede for me with her son? Do these individual souls still exist and do they have any power or inclination to relate to us? Why should I pray to Jesus of Nazareth if he has returned to the Divine? If God is indeed Being, Life and Love, do not all human souls melt back into this Absolute after death? In a larger sense if the individual spirits of the saints remain intact, does not the soul of every human endure eternally as a unique spirit? This has become a major stumbling block on my path to the Divine. Can you help?"
Your questions have much to commend them. My bet is that you grew up in a Roman Catholic background where the Virgin, St. Cecelia, St. Jude and other saints were important parts of your culture. You also seem to be in contact with some eastern religious thought with your idea that all souls melt back into the Absolute after death.
The bottom line is that no one knows what happens after death and the world is reeling today somewhere between the death of traditional religious language and the need to process contemporary religious experience. I am not sure where we will end up.
I suspect praying to saints began because they were so human and God, even Jesus seemed so distant, so unreal. It was not long after these practices were adopted that cults devoted to Mary and various saints developed and they in turn spawned cottage industry in medals, icons, etc. I think most of that represented a superstitious past that is dying.
My only word to you is that I am so busy living that I don't waste much time trying to figure out what happens after life. I believe in life after death but I can't define it. I believe in life before death and I intend to live it. I commend a similar pattern to you.
-- Bishop Spong
Karen on 10.20.05 @ 08:18 AM CST