Friday, February 20, 2009

Even If There Were No Afterlife

Don't get me wrong.

I have no doubt that the material, physical world that we see, hear, touch, taste and smell with our physical senses is but the tip of the iceberg of existence. It is merely the surface of what, as the Gnostics put it, is "real." I have no doubt that what takes place between birth and death is but a passage.

At the same time, death is real. It is what gives "the passage" meaning. If life is the "day in which our labor must be performed," then death is without question a kind of "final deadline," a milestone against which all our living is judged, here and now as well as in eternity.

But this is to highlight the utter importance of the here and now. It reminds us that life must be lived as if this were our one big chance at it, never to be repeated. Because it is.

To affirm this is not the same as to say, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" To live according to that motto is to live a half a life. No, not even that: it is to live a mere shadow of a life, of what life can be.

When I pray as I ought -- when I don't fall into the kind of habitual pleading that prayer can easily become when I am careless -- I become aware of what true loyalty to God is. I become aware of the pettiness of concern about rewards or punishments; as if the rewards we already have don't count. I am grateful for the presence of the Spirit; a presence that is the best of the best things we can experience in this life: better than sex. Though don't get me wrong; sex is great. But the presence of the Spirit is the truest, most deeply satisfying kind of communion. In its presence I am filled to overflowing with gratitude. And when gratitude overflows, it always does so in the form of love and service. When I pray as I ought, the Amen of the prayer is just a comma. It signals the passage to a different form of prayer, the kind of prayer that life at its best becomes.

And to live in this kind of prayerful awareness is to realize that even if this is all there is, even if this moment is the only gift God gives me, it is enough -- more than enough -- to merit eternal gratitude. I am content to say, even if there is no more than this, let me give you everything that I have now.

If there is a life everlasting, maybe it is only for that, only to give us the chance to give God back the gratitude we owe for this moment.

But this is not all there is. This is only the tip of the iceberg.


Bravone said...

Your post makes me realize how shallow I am sometimes. When I lost my faith and belief in an afterlife, my carnal desires took over. I didn't have the spiritual maturity to be grateful, even if there were no afterlife.

What a great post. Thank you.

J G-W said...

Bravone: That's a courageous acknowledgment to make. But I'm right with you... As I've posted elsewhere, it's taken me a while to find my moral bearings. It's hard for gay men to do this in a culture where we are told (and often internalize the notion) that we are inherently immoral.

Our mistakes are as much a part of our journeys as the right choices. Learning that is hard won is the best and most durable...

GeckoMan said...

John, I hope you are well and doing well. I've missed your frequent posts!

This last weekend, driving home from Utah, we listened to the CD of 'Believing Christ.' I was so impressed with the chapter on grace, and there is much of your post here that reminds me of Bro. Robinson's sentiments. Have you read the book?

J G-W said...

I haven't read the book, but it sounds cool...

I'm teaching, and have been busy. This past week I was a guest preacher at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Mankato; plus had parent-teacher conferences for Glen. So I haven't had time to post as much as I'd like. But I'm glad to know I've been missed! Will be posting again prolly next week...!