The passing of loved ones always kindles a watershed moment in life. Saying goodbye, seeking comfort in loss, revisiting beliefs about life after death – these are often ritualized, both at the time of death and for years afterward. Different faith traditions have developed a variety of rituals and celebrations to remember the dead, to honor their lives, and to celebrate various expressions of hope in the midst of grief.
Some of these traditions have ancient roots in the stories of martyrs, the cherishing of relics, and the ongoing visitation of burial sites. Many traditions believe the time of death and the funeral or memorial are opportunities to reiterate beliefs about heaven, resurrection, and reunion. Others focus more on the blessing and well-being of the living by offering opportunities for addressing the dead, challenging them, celebrating them, or merely saying goodbye. These rich and complex rituals can both create and proclaim meaning in the face of death and loss.
In what ways does your tradition honor the dead? What are the beliefs that sustain your faith during times of personal loss? What practices might uniquely express your faith regarding life after death? In what ways does your faith community include those who have gone before?
Max Lindenman, Catholic, educator
For the living, easy access to the precincts of the dead is a priceless resource. What we lose along with it is not so much awareness of death itself as the comforting belief that not even death can blot out our civic and communal existence.
Rev. Amy Ziettlow, Lutheran, minister, author, former hospital chaplain
A community-wide memorial service at a hospital interfaith chapel made possible a collective witness to loss and the proclamation that we would not be crushed or defined by it.
Susan Rose, Humanist, Dean at American Ethical Union
There aren't rules for us to follow as Humanists, no set of instructions for what to do when someone dies. It is up to us to select what practices and beliefs make sense to us.
Deepika Birks, Hindu, blogger
Karmic cycles can harm future generations whether or not we believe in reincarnation and whether or not we consider it fair.
James Faulconer, Mormon, professor, author, columnist
Why do we seal spouses to each other, children to parents, and living persons to their ancestors? Why do we baptize our ancestors who have passed on by proxy?
Chris Highland, Humanist, interfaith chaplain, naturalism writer
Death and the fear of it, the mystery of it, created a "need to know," some way for humans to feel comforted and assured that to be human is not just about adding water to humus.
Kelly Pigott, Progressive Christian, professor
We would be wise to remember that our faith was passed down to us through great men and women of faith. Forgetting them is like forgetting our childhood: we lose a vital piece of who we are.
Tim Suttle, Evangelical, pastor, author
I was there to bear witness on behalf of the suburbs to a death that was bound up top to bottom in injustice. I was there to confess that our affluent suburban way of life made the poverty of this neighborhood inevitable.
Marcus Borg, Progressive Christian, Canon Theologian
The diminishment of a visceral awareness of death and our own deaths may impede our ability to live as fully and vitally as we might.
Tod Worner, Catholic, lecturer, physician
Perhaps these simple but confident six words best epitomize the Catholic view of death.
Kyle Cupp, Catholic, freelance writer and editor
If in my grief I can't find meaning, I will create it. Fortunately, I do not have to be creative alone. The Church provides us with special rituals and remembrances for relating creatively to those we've lost.
Paul Louis Metzger, Evangelical, professor, author
Is it always the case that Japanese people worship the dead, or could regular remembrance simply be a form of honor and gratitude for the deceased?
John Beckett, Druid, author
As we celebrate the season of Samhain, we know that some day we will join the ancestors. It will fall to those who remain in this world to sustain the relationships that death has altered but cannot end.
Lilith Dorsey, Afro-Caribbean Paganism and Voodoo
In the Haitian forms of Voodoo, more properly known as Vodou, even call the deities themselves Les Mysteres, or the Mysteries. Many of our mysterious practices are designed to honor and salute the Dead.
The High Calling
1 Corinthians 15:35-50 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. [Read More...]
I live about 45 minutes outside of Indianapolis, so when I go into town for a meeting on Thursday mornings, I’m always tempted to go shopping afterwards. There’s a Trader Joe’s and a TJ Maxx right around the corner from where we hold our meeting, and I imagine, over the years, I’ve saved thousands of [Read More...]
I claim my never-born sibling as an Ancestor, because hir death fundamentally shaped my life. And so, this Samhain, I will be inviting my spirit child sibling to come and share the evening with me, as a member of my family of Mighty Dead, Beloved Dead and Ancestors.
Christians have many ways of honoring ancestors. I realize that what I know about honoring ancestors in Christianity is very selective and bound to my cultural and ecclesial experiences. Being on the road away from my books right now makes it more difficult. At any rate, as they say here in the UK “I’ll carry [Read More...]
Last year, I lost a beloved companion. Reclaiming's Spiral Dance ritual, now in its 35th year, was the sacred space in which I mourned. Each year, hundreds of people gather in this place to celebrate and dance with the dead, those whose names we know, and those whose names we do not know -- because what is remembered, lives.