What happens to us after we die?
If someone had asked me that 4 months ago, I would’ve given vague but scriptural answers along the lines of the heavenly visions in Revelation, and John chapter 14. We go to the place prepared for us, a place separate from earth (though not entirely) which will one day be the eternal home of all people. We go to live with God, in light and love, fully restored in body, mind and spirit. I don’t believe in hell, at least not as a place somewhere other than earth.
But since Marrett died, my experience of the afterlife has been inconsistent with these answers. I feel his presence in exactly the same way I feel God’s presence, sometimes as palpable as a living person, sometimes as a fire that burns within me. He speaks to me as clearly as Christ does, in that still small voice reminding me that I am loved and not alone. In my experiences of Reiki, I have felt and seen and heard him cooperating with God to bring healing to the brokenness left over by his death. In my prayer life, he is the mediator, like praying through the saints, for he exists closer to God than I do right now.
I am undergoing what Karoline Lewis described earlier this week as a shift from embedded to deliberative theology, where my bodily experience of God and the scriptures necessitates a change in my theology. It is almost always brought about by crisis, she told our synod’s rostered leaders, and it was as if she wrote her presentation just for me. (Not really, though, it’s for her upcoming book, Embody, out this spring from Abingdon Press.)
So what do I think now about the afterlife? I’m still discerning, but here’s what I’ve got so far. When we die, our bodies, which have been joined to God’s in the mystery of baptism, become one with God completely. We are healed from all our brokenness in that joining, and invited into full participation in God’s work of healing all things. While God has been cooperative in Their work with humans in our earthly bodies, when those bodies join the Ground of all Being after death, they become more direct mediators of that work.
Specifically, I have felt Marrett pulling me back to faith after the crisis of his death made it impossible to see God’s goodness. I have heard him say to me, when all I wanted was to connect to his love, “through me, not to me”, witnessing to the greater love that connects us. My Reiki practicioner has seen him, with a clarity she could only get from the Ground of Being, patiently and joyfully removing the barriers that keep me from him and from God. When I pray, the answers come just as often in his voice as they do in Christ’s. I find him where I have always found God: in the kindness of neighbors and friends, in my children, in divine creations like butterflies and trees. He is one with our Lord in a way I long to be.
I have many more questions about the afterlife than I ever have, most of which still don’t have answers. What will our reuniting be like when I die? Will the body I miss so much be physically there to greet mine? Will there be sex in our resurrected bodies? That, more than anything else, is what sounds like heaven right now. Will we get to talk through all the things left unresolved, or won’t any of that matter to me then?
As I deliberate over this new experience of God and God’s beloved Marrett, I wonder where I will end up theologically. And whether any of this new belief actually fits within a Christian frame. It feels like I am having to go around the traditions I know to get to God these days. But the Rev. Dr. Lewis gave me hope this week, that what I am undergoing is an apocalypse, an unveiling of a reality which has always been, just unseen by me. And it is holy, a gift from the God who loves me, for the sake of the world.