Flashback To A Church Basement in Lincoln, Nebraska Circa 1989
I was 10 years old, sitting in Sunday School in the basement of a tiny Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. The teacher — someone’s warm and well-meaning and probably-exhausted mother — was talking about how God and heaven are “up there in the sky.” Ten-year-old preacher’s kid me breathlessly raised her hand and said “Or maybe God and heaven are all around us, in the trees and the plants and our bodies and each other!!”
There was an awkward silence as everyone looked around uncomfortably, waiting. The teacher-mom said “Uh...sure...” and after an uncertain beat she moved along with the lesson plan.
I don’t believe in hell. I don’t believe that people who don’t worship the “right” prophet are going there. And I especially don’t want my kid to grow up focusing on individual salvation in heaven versus collective easing-of-suffering in the here and now. Marx and so many other critics of religions have argued that the obsession with achieving eternal life displaces folks’ attention on the future transcendent and removes their sense of responsibility for this right-here world. I agree.
So on this Dia de los Muertos, I am grateful for progressive theological imagination around what happens after bodily death. I am grateful for pop cultural sources of wisdom on grief like Pixar's brilliant and beautiful Coco. And I am grateful for the Hindu teaching that, upon death, our individual souls (Atman) dissolve back into the great universal soul (Brahman), like an individual wave returns to the ocean.
We teach our son that when people die, their spirits go back to be with God — a God who looks and lives and breathes like the forest and the prairie and the sky.
A blessed Dia de los Muertos to you and your dear ones who’ve crossed over the marigold bridge. May you feel them near.