'When I die, I want to have my ashes buried under this tree.'
Today I have too many friends who are dying. Sometimes at a Unitarian Universalist memorial service I feel dissatisfied—and I’m the preacher in charge. I think: What is going on that I can’t figure out how to preach my view of resurrection?
I know that people would want to hear it; I’m not worried about offending or confusing anyone; and I treasure the ability to speak the plain truth as I see it. The plain truth is no one knows for sure what happens when we die. That’s not a very stirring thing to proclaim at a funeral, though, honest as it is. We all have some kind of belief about it, even if that belief is that there is nothing after we die.
The reason I haven’t preached it yet is because when I call to mind my belief about the afterlife, it comes to me as a color.
At a camping weekend with friends, we were nestled in a clearing on a mountainside. Most of the folks were around the campfire, talking or dozing. Our chef was in the cooking tent, grilling and gossiping with his fiancée and a couple of others. I love those people, and they love me. Being surrounded by love is one fine way to spend your time. I wandered off to the hammock, and lay there looking up at the sky through early April leaves.
I was soaked with light, the blue of the sky, the green of young leaves, the sun shining through them like stained glass. I thought, “When I die, I want to have my ashes buried under this tree, so that for one spring after another my body can be part of this particular green.” I could feel my life flowing through the cells of a leaf, feel the leaf opening to the warmth and the light, feel myself part of that green, and I was happy.
If that is my afterlife, I will be deeply happy.
The hope of that afterlife doesn’t take any leap of faith. I know it can happen. The minerals and the water in my body can be soaked up through the roots of that tree. A part of my body will be unfurling, green in the sun.
My soul may be somewhere else. Sometimes I think my soul will float in an ocean of love. Will I recognize old friends, family, who have gone on ahead? I don’t know. I think I will know they are there. I will know this: there is not now nor was there ever any separation between us. I will know that they were with me as strongly when I was alive as when I’m part of the leaves.
The green of a new leaf, lit from behind with the spring sun—that color stays inside me, a glowing place of peace, the certainty of remaining part of life. During a memorial service I see that green, I feel that peace. It’s hard to preach a color, but I’m going to think of a way.
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The Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a UU World online columnist, is senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas, and the author of several books, including Broken Buddha. She is also a humorist and singer-songwriter. (Author’s website.)
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