The Celts of Scotland and Ireland speak of certain patches of land as “thin places” where heaven and earth, the divine and human, eternity and time, touch one another. Thin places remind us that we are always on holy ground and that God’s Spirit moves temporally and geographically through our lives and the world.
Janis Heaphy Durham’s mew book, The Hand on the Mirror: A True Story of Life Beyond Death, witnesses to her experiences of thin places in relationship to her deceased husband Max. Synchronous encounters and unexpected events lead Durham to go on a pilgrimage in search of survival after death. For Durham, the veil between this life and the next has been pierced. Our “departed” friends can still reach out to us, giving testimony to the reality that love never ends.
All the great religious traditions give testimony to the existence of something more than meets the eye. Our lives cannot be reduced to mere transitory matter, nor can the spirit and mind be solely defined by the mortal brain. A sacred energy, understood in a variety of ways by the great religious traditions, lives in and through us. It is our deepest nature, bound to this time and place and to our particular body and experiences, and yet flowing freely in relationship to God’s everlasting love.
As a pastor I am the celebrant at many funerals and memorial services. We give thanks and celebrate the life that has been lived. Yet, we do more than that. We proclaim the enduring realities of life, first all, the reality of God whose love brings forth the universe and every human being. We testify to God’s holy adventure, urging us forward in love and creativity. But, more often than not, we take time to affirm that nothing can separate us from the love of God. While we cannot fully grasp the nature of the afterlife, virtually every funeral or memorial service in which I preside reflects on the possibility that the living and the dead may meet again. In fact, we testify that death has been defeated by the love of God and that the dead are now living a new adventure, more fully attuned to God’s vision and more fully in harmony with their companions. We testify to the hope that love endures forever and that we will meet with beloved friends and family in a holy environment, characterized a love supreme.
Durham goes on a pilgrimage of the spirit and discovers that death is not the end. She encounters a thin place where the deceased may reach out to us, sharing their love and wisdom from the “other side.” Whether or not we can communicate from our side remains an open question. Whether our prayers, love, or unresolved issues matter to the dead is also unclear. But,
Durham gives us a vision of hope. She believes that the deceased continue to care for us and at times are willing and able to communicate with us, assuring us that all is – and will be – well. She also believes that our own journeys take us beyond the grave to new adventures. Death is not the end, but the beginning of new life with God.
There is great comfort in Durham’s vision. It does not draw us away from the world, but invites us to love well today and know that love endures forever and that our relationships are part of greater and deeper love that continues beyond the grave.
Read an excerpt from The Hand on the Mirror at the Patheos Book Club here!