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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Heavenly rest

There's an Episcopal parish in New York City called the Church of the Heavenly Rest. I've never been inside, but I like the name. I've been reflecting on that name as my mother Grace entered her final days and then passed away on Monday.

Almost everyone faces adversity at some points during life, but Mom had more than her fair share. Her parents divorced when she was young -- an uncommon event in the 1930s and disfavored in the Bible Belt. My younger brother died from illness at the age of 20 months. I had a series of nearly fatal medical adventures in childhood. Mom faced other challenges that I won't mention here. Starting around age 60, she had her own series of difficult medical problems. After she turned 80, dementia began to set in. It eventually robbed her of much of her personality and cognition.

And so, as Mom's death approached, I found myself asking that she be granted Heavenly Rest. Many if not most cultures and religions share an expectation that personal existence is changed, not ended, upon earthly death -- even though those cultures and religions agree on little else. Hard-bitten scientists who have no use for the extra-natural either dismiss the concept as nonsense or say that at best it's genetic behavioral coding to increase survival of the species. Such people find that science and religion are irreconcilable; I'm not one of them. That said, even to a fundamentalist Christian (and I am not one of them, either), the descriptions of Heavenly Rest are sketchy and largely metaphorical. Absent a new revelation -- something that process theologians are open to, although fundamentalists are not -- we will have to be satisfied with the descriptions of Heavenly Rest that we have.

Personally I see those descriptions through a lens of liberal Christianity, and I find them to be not merely sufficient but also exciting. May Mom's soul, and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace and rise in glory.