Sunday I managed a long overdue wander through the woods, eventually finding myself in Todd Creek Redwood grove above Saratoga. These sorts of meanderings seem to be particularly helpful in processing whatever it is that is currently stewing in my brainpan. Simmering near the top of the stew lately, especially given that my wife and I both lost our fathers recently, is this whole “what happens when we die?” question. Lately I have run into various posts/podcasts on the question of whether our consciousness endures, as well as the latest from the world of quantum weirdness: to wit, it appears that rather than asking how consciousness derived from matter, what we should be asking is how matter derived from consciousness, the true building block of the universe. That makes my brain melt, I’ll admit, but on the other hand seems consistent with a creation narrative as I have understood that, as well as aligned with my current thinking on the nature of the divine. Rather than the bearded dude separate from creation “out there” somewhere, I am much more inclined toward considering God as “I Am,” pure existence, and as being “over all and through all and in all:” the reality we all live in the midst of and are a part of, “In whom we live and move and have our being,” if you will. It would certainly be theologically and scientifically consistent, in my mind, to call that consciousness God.
So there I am, finally at the grove after too long of a hike (took a bit of a rabbit trail for a bit, quite literally, before it petered out) and I found myself thinking about the dads and asking, “Are you there? Are you now a part of that consciousness that undergirds reality? Are we here together?” Then came one of those memorable mystical moments that sometimes occur on occasions like that, and the answers in the affirmative were as clear as if they had been spoken.
I have always had the notion that our consciousness endures, something the tradition I come from certainly affirms. But that has always assumed a distinct disconnect between realities, “going to heaven,” wherever that is, but it certainly isn’t here. In this case what was particularly meaningful to me about the experience was the sense of presence that felt more like an overlap than a disconnect. Considering the way in which their present spiritual reality and my physical reality were connecting in that grove reminded me of another time years ago as I sat by a stream in a different part of the forest (same mountains). I was pursuing a contemplative moment when my prayers became words which became sounds which became melded with the sound of the stream and turned into music: an interplay of melody, rhythm, harmony and yes, meaning, that was so incalculably complex even Beethoven or Frank Zappa wouldn’t have been able to understand it’s structure. But they would have been entranced as I by the immeasurable beauty of it all. And I was a part of it, integrally integrated into the substance of creation. It was a completely overwhelming experience made more so by the sure knowledge that I had the barest hint of what that existence is really like. Last Sunday at Todd Creek Redwoods, I felt the presence of those who had so recently passed and thought about the chance they were experiencing in its fullness that which I had only glimpsed, and I was glad for them.
Then I wondered, we seem so near and so intertwined in spite of our current realities, could they manifest in this world if they chose? I have no idea, actually, but if they are experiencing the complete reality that I had only a glimpse of, why should they? They don’t need to come back for dolphin rides: they experience everything because they are a part of it.* However, I considered one who did choose to incarnate at one point, someone who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself human, and offered us an example and teachings as to how to manifest the God consciousness in this world. He died, as do we all, but apparently didn’t stay that way. And that is spoken of in the sacred texts of my tradition as something that reconciled not just every human, but the entire cosmos, whether “things on earth or things in heaven” to God. Somehow all that exists in the physical and spiritual realms were brought into alignment with a plan and a purpose. The hows and the whys and the (quantum) mechanics of that are beyond me. But in speaking about his conviction that this “resurrection” is destined to be a universal phenomenon for everyone, Paul elaborates what the end game is pretty well, I think. In his central discourse on the subject in 1 Cor. 15, he speaks of a process of defeating those things that are not in alignment with the prime objective until finally God is “all in all.” To me that is a picture of finally getting to the point where there are no boundaries between the physical and the spiritual, and the little overlaps like I experienced become the totality. Death itself is spoken of as the final enemy to be destroyed, so there is no more going from “here” to “there,” because here and there become one thing. This is the mystery of God’s will to be completed when everything is fulfilled spoken of by the author of Ephesians: “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth.”
My thinking on stuff like this continues to evolve, but at this point here’s what I can say regarding where I’m at on this whole “what happens after you die?” thing:
For me, that means that everything I do in this life which is aligned with the objective of the God who is love- every act of compassion, service, caring for the marginalized, all the kinds of stuff Jesus showed and taught about how to manifest God consciousness: all of it is a piece of the process of getting to the goal, and I believe a piece of the process of getting me to become a more useful part of the program now and even after my Zoom memorial (God help us all).
All of creation is saturated with meaning and purpose and hopefulness as it continues to evolve toward a positive goal the nature of which none of us can possibly imagine, but every day we are a part of the process, now until time itself no longer exists.
I’m all good with that.
*in discussing this with a friend, he mentioned to me that the story of the transfiguration might be an example of a possible answer to that question. Why didn’t I think of that?
** see 1 Cor. 3:10-15, among other passages, for a description of this sort of process