An Active Afterlife

An Active Afterlife October 14, 2018
Credit: Kristy Burmeister (a broken grave marker at Pere Cheney, Michigan)

They said I was a morbid kid. Other kids wanted to visit Six Flags. I wanted to visit cemeteries.

I don’t know how my fascination with death began. It might have grown out of all those times I heard my mother and I had almost died when I was born. I’ve always known I almost wasn’t.

It could be because one of my earliest memories involves the death of a family member. Or because there was a family story about my great-grandmother and her sister walking by a cemetery when my great-grandmother stopped in her tracks and told her sister, “One of us is going to be here soon.” She died unexpectedly soon after. It doesn’t even matter if the story is true or not. It lodged in my head either way.

However it started, I can’t remember a time when mortality wasn’t on my mind. While everyone around me avoided the topic, my eight-year-old self was staring it down.

We didn’t regularly attend church when I was little. My mother grew up Catholic. My father grew up Lutheran. I’m pretty sure they were technically members at a Methodist church, but we never went there.

Mom read to us from our children’s Bible, though, and she taught us to pray every night. “If I should die before I wake…” (So, maybe that’s where it started.)

What did it mean to ask the Lord to take your soul? Take it where?

Take it to Heaven, obviously.

I remember drawing a picture of Heaven and Hell when I was about four. I drew a horizontal line to divide the paper in half. The top half of the page had clouds and smiling stick people. The bottoms half had scribbled crayon flames and a car. (I’m not sure why there was a car. I did have a recurring nightmare about driving over a cliff, so maybe I thought cars were evil.)

When you died, you went to Heaven or Hell. Honestly, I was terrified of both places.

What would you even do in Heaven? Float around? That had to get real old, real quick. Heaven sounded like the most boring place ever. It seemed like torture to me. You stop existing on Earth. You can’t do any of the things you love doing anymore. Your loved ones put up a grave marker and they visit it for a while, but eventually your great-great-grandchildren won’t even know your name. Your marker crumbles and nobody knows you were once a person. When everyone forgets you existed, it’s like you never did exist.

Then you have to hang out as an invisible being in the clouds for eternity, knowing that nobody remembers you. How is that paradise? How is that better than ceasing to exist? If there wasn’t an afterlife, at least you wouldn’t be tormented like that.

The thought of fading out and being forgotten horrified me. Part of the reason I got into genealogy when I was younger was because I wanted to preserve some memory of my ancestors, as I hoped some future descendant would do for me.

I didn’t know anything about saints continuing their work after they’d died. I didn’t know about bodily resurrection. Nobody told me about Jesus unveiling Earth 2.0. Honestly, I was pretty shocked when I heard about it. Then I got angry because, you know, someone could have mentioned it to me.

Death is still on my mind. It’s part of who I am at this point. I think about death more than most people do. I still really dig cemeteries. (I don’t literally dig cemeteries. I swear I’m not a grave robber.) I still think about what it’ll mean when I die. Mortality and I will always be curled up together.

I’d rather not die anytime soon, but I’m not terrified of it anymore. I bet I could do some awesome stuff as a dead person. And I’m looking forward to a body that isn’t so dysfunctional in the future.

Christianity appeals to some people because they see faith as a “get into Heaven free” card. That’s never been the main attraction for me. Immortality (well, the boring kind of immortality) was one of the things that worried me the most about being a Christian until I finally figured out the resurrection part.

I’m here for Jesus, and Jesus wouldn’t leave me all bored and miserable and hanging out in clouds with nothing to do. If I’m following him and doing his work as I’m supposed to do, he wouldn’t abandon me to that.

My leap of faith isn’t so much about believing Jesus exists or that he is who he claimed to be. Faith, for me, is about trusting Jesus actually knows me. I won’t be forgotten because Jesus doesn’t forget us. When you’re with Jesus, your work doesn’t end just because your life does, anyway. How could I be bored?

I hope to have a very active afterlife. Someone else can have my cloud.

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  • John Swaringen

    Your not alone. I have a thing about cemeteries as well. Ghosts, paranormal etc. I’ve always wondered if I’ll be able to hunt and fish in heaven. I imagine fishing with St. Peter.

  • EMS

    Don’t know if you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. The last book is called, appropriately enough, “The Last Battle”. To be honest, I didn’t particularly like it. Until the end. I think he gives the best description of Heaven that I’ve ever read (and Hell before that). There is a line at the end of chapter 15 spoken by the Unicorn. “‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.'” The last line of the entire series is in Chapter 16: “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” That line, and the last paragraph before it, gave me hope and a glimpse of the real glory of Heaven. Even now, rereading that part fills me with peace and joy.

  • That’s a great thing to imagine.

  • My dad read the series to me when I was around 10. I wasn’t a big fan of The Last Battle until right at the end either. I don’t remember everything abotu the book, but I do remember being both disturbed and intrigued. I should read it again.

  • TinnyWhistler

    The Last Battle’s plot is weirdly structured and almost feels frazzled in a way that the latter half of Dawn Treader does as well. And the end fo the last book in the Space Trilogy, blanking on the title. I’m just of the opinion that Lewis wanted REALLY cool and significant endings to his series but ended up overdoing it juuust a tad and pushing it into uncanny valley. His actual point is fine, how he gets there is…odd.

  • Yeah, I remember the whole tone just feeling off.

  • EMS

    Agree. The last 2 books in the series are weird. Hated what he did with Susan.

    As for the Space Trilogy, I liked the first book. But he really lost me with the second book, the weird Venus one. My major beef with it is that the Venusians (or whatever they were called) didn’t choose to reject the “Apple”. Random (he was the “good” guy I think) did it for them by killing the bad guy (don’t remember his name). So the Venusians become good because of an act of murder by an outside party? There is something seriously wrong with that kind of thinking. I read the 3rd book, but I frankly don’t remember much about it. He did have some good points but they got buried in the plot. He did much better with the Screwtape Letters. I really don’t know why that series gets so much praise from Christians. It isn’t good classic SF and the good stuff is buried under bad stuff IMO.

  • TinnyWhistler

    Ya like that implication that Susan’s soul was lost based on her liking boys? Remember that when she tried dating in The Horse and his Boy it ended in invasion!

    I try not to think about the theology in the Space Trilogy. It just gets weirder the more you try to figure it out.

    Agreed on Screwtape. I think not having a SUPER DUPER AWESOME SPECTACULAR world helped keep that one from going off the rails

  • Right?! I forgot all about that in The Horse and His Boy, but I remember reading The Last Battle and being like, “What? Susan’s a bad person now because she likes to wear lipstick?”

  • TinnyWhistler

    And nylons. Don’t forget the nylons.

    Reading more of what he’s written as an adult, I almost have the impression that he’s slightly terrified of women and their being attractive to him.