When I was going through my cancer scare, a friend of mine asked me to pray for her friend who had just been told that his leukemia was terminal. And I didn’t know what to pray. The thought of my own dying was, I think, still to close to the matter. If I were, indeed, terminal, I thought, for what would I pray? For what would I want others to pray?
After heading out of church one Sunday with a sudden, bright knowledge that I was healed, I began to understand what was important about last rites and what was needed in all of our prayers for the dying. It isn’t enough to tidy things up before one dies and then leave everything to God’s mercy. The part about leaving everything in God’s merciful hands is certainly sufficient, but the beautiful healing in that is not only the rightness of it and the sense of peace that it can bring – but also the joy.
What will it be like to be dead? Does this question seem dark and morbid to you, raising up fear? It does a little to me, but, perhaps that is instinctive, since it goes against nature to want to experience being dead. However, as people of faith, it is not a scary question to ask. For, we do not believe that death is the end of our lives. Our bodies will no longer be able to hold onto life, will die and decay back into the earth – but the life that is let go continues. Our souls, which had animated our bodies, are of spirit and therefore they are immortal and cannot die. So… what happens after our lungs stop breathing, our hearts stop beating, and our brains stop firing signals? What will life be like then?
After I received confirmation that my tumors were not cancerous, it begin to hit me as so obvious what was needed. If we are people of faith, then dying not only means saying goodbye to our loved ones, but also preparing to say hello to heavenly bliss. There should, I’m realizing, be a kind of excitement in this. It’s horribly sad to have to leave this lovely life… But, what about the loveliness that awaits us on the other side in the continued life of the World to Come?
I have written that I am too often wary of hope – even of hope that is a theological virtue, the desire and expectation of Heaven. It’s as if I don’t want to believe in anything that might be too good to be true, as if I don’t want to be seen as a fool. But, isn’t it an ultimately noble and glorious thing to be a fool for Christ? If I am a faithful believer, then I must put aside my self-centered pride and believe what I hold as true. Whether I am viewed as a fool or not. I must become a person of faith and hope. And, if Heaven is as we are told – the pure and eternal embrace of God, endless glory and bliss – then, what fool would not desire it?
It is good and right to desire living our best here and now, while we can. When we no longer can live here, however, let all prayers be that we may not be so overcome with sorrow at the leaving that we forget the joyful excitement of the arriving. The Rockies and Alps that we never got to see with our physical eyes are but ridges compared to the endless, glorious vistas of Paradise. The delights of chocolate and kittens and wildflowers are as trifles compared to the wonders, enchantments, and beauties of God’s unfiltered, unfettered realm. Even the love that we share with our families and friends… This magnificent love has always been a glimpse, a seed, a taste of the infinite and intimate love of our Divine Creator, in which we will be gloriously submerged and shining all through in Heaven.
Yes, I have always thought that these sound like the kind of things that you tell children. Fairytales. But… Where do fairytales come from? The human imagination is vibrantly amazing – and where does it come from? Reduction to synapse flashes is not worthy explanation of the fullness of reality, the fullness of being alive. Eternal life is real, we know this in faith, and the experience of eternal life is far beyond all possible imagining.
But, it doesn’t hurt to try. We are creative creatures – our delightful creativity is one of the gifts of being created in the image of the Divine, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
As I was writing this, my uncle was in hospice, his beleaguered body dying bit by bit. His soul passed into eternity the day of this posting. My prayer for him has been that, in whatever state of consciousness he still had, he would experience the joyful anticipation of Heaven, and that his loved ones, through their sorrow, with faith and hope, may be happy for him in the wonders and bliss that he is about to experience. My prayer for the friend of a friend is that, while he is still fully conscious, he may also experience the joyful anticipation of Heaven, desiring it so much that he seeks reconciliation with God and with others. Thus reconciled, he may fully enter into the endless joy that he excitedly awaits.
Before posting this, I learned (on the same day that I was supposed to find out whether or not I have cancer – I discovered earlier and do not) that my cousin’s 17-year-old son has acute leukemia. There are no sufficient words for this sadness. My prayer for him is for an instant miracle, or if that not be His Holy Will, that God will see him through the arduous treatment and cure him completely, and soon. May he come through this closer to God and his loved ones, living his best here and now, able to serve Love with courage and grace for decades and decades to come.
And I pray, when my time comes to leave this lovely earth, whenever that will be, that God will give me excitement about what is to come. May I be given the grace to anticipate the joy of Heaven, almost giddy with the imagining of all of its splendors and delights. Yes, like a child.
Like a child of God who’s finally coming home.
© 2017 Christina Chase
Photo credit: Aaron Burden used freely through Unsplash.com