Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Afterlife and Such

I was talking to a good friend yesterday as we strolled through a park, telling her about a recent visit I had with a priest at my church. It happened a while ago, and I've hesitated to tell about it because it's just so, well, embarrassing. One morning, I dropped Sophie off at school -- her aide was absent AGAIN and on the way in, I'd let go of Sophie for a second and she had fallen on the ground and scraped her hand. I felt terrible and sometimes it's the smallest things that spark the big ones. The big one being a sort of mini-car breakdown, where I'm weeping profusely and lamenting my life, yada, yada, yada. Anyway, I drive right by my church on the way home, and I had the crazy idea to stop by the parish office and perhaps get a little comfort, a little prayer, a little counseling. I had in mind a certain priest who I really like, really admire, who challenges me to think and believe and want to live a life of goodness and faith.

I didn't get that priest.

I got the one I don't much care for, the one who I believe doesn't possess an iota of spirituality or insight. When I sat down across from him and told him of my sorrow and difficulty "pulling it together," he told me that as a Christian, as a Catholic, I must wait for the next life. That sorrow and suffering in this life, borne by me or by Sophie or by whomever, is just preparation for the next, much better life.

The next life.

And I don't think he meant it in the reincarnation way.

He also said some mumbo-jumbo about going to church more, etc., but he didn't offer up a prayer, an appeal, nothing. I do believe, though, that the universe sent me to him, in particular that morning if only to snap me out of my despair and help me to realize that I'm FINE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! I literally ran to my car and gunned it out of there, windows open to breathe the perfect, perfect Los Angeles air. I could have whooped with relief!

During the weeks that have followed this "session," I've had many an occasion to reflect on The Priest's words. The ones about the afterlife. I don't know about heaven or hell, but I've always loved the passage in the Bible (where? I don't remember) when Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is at hand." I imagine his hand, palm up, held about a foot or so from his body. The WORLD beyond his fingertips.

I like to think that the kingdom of God IS at hand, right here, in the present. And when I researched a bit online, I found this passage, which seems to confirm what I thought:

The Kingdom of God is at Hand, or near us. The word "near" in our English translations of the Scriptures, comes from a Greek word: "Engiken," which when translated means "has come near. It is important for us know these Hebrew differences in meaning, to help bring further understanding to our Lord Jesus Christ's teachings, both in the early Church and in todays Church.

If we translate that word NEAR back into Hebrew, we get an entirely different meaning and understanding. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word: Engiken, is: "KARAV," which means: "To come up to and be with," or "to be where something or someone else is." Why is this so important, you might ask?

Well, if we use the English or Greek word meaning NEAR, the implication is that the Kingdom of God is sometime in the future, not yet here. Yet the Hebrew word KARAV means the exact opposite. It give us the meaning: "IT IS HERE! IT HAS ARRIVED!" The Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is always -- present tense -- it is NOW, according to the Hebrew usage and the understanding of the Jews at the time of Jesus and also within rabbinic usage even today.

But before I go all Zen on you, I'll post this poem by Walt Whitman, who I wish was in that parish office when I needed a reminder:

Of The Terrible Doubt Of Appearances

by Walt Whitman

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,
That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable
May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills,
shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be
these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and
the real something has yet to be known,
(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me
and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,
aught of them,)
May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
might prove (as of course they would) nought of what
they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed
points of view;
To me these and the like of these are curiously answer'd by
my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while
holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and
reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom, I am
silent, I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of
identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.


  1. That is so cool! I think of Jesus as having Come To Us .... and here His Kingdom comes to us too. We don't get to it somehow - which seems like undertaking an expedition to Mt Everest at times. But He brought it near. It's like bringing Everest down to sea level - and I for one like the sea much more than the mountain top!

    Thank you for sharing that!

  2. What a thoughtful post -- I have to contain myself (I feel my own post coming on now). As an agnostic, I think there is a chance there's something else later...maybe. But the idea that this amazing, mysterious, beautiful life and world may be all there is makes me want to make the most of it. If this turns out to be all there is, I think it's pretty fantastic and I'm okay with it.

  3. Maybe when that particular priest asks for donations, you could tell him that he'll have to wait for the next life. Was that unkind? Yes? Sorry.

    I very much believe that we're here to make the most of this life. Still, I can't help but imagine a better one for my son, someday. That, to me, would be heaven.

  4. this passage works for me whether i'm in my believing or disbelieving god mode. it's all about being in the present, in the now, in THIS moment.

    and it's funny that this priest gave you the gift of the NOW by being so very NOT helpful. i love the image of you running to your car and 'gunning' it out of there! rolling down the windows and letting that air envelope you!

    but i don't love that the aide wasn't there. what the %*&$#? but that was then and this is now and right now, i'm sending my xxx

  5. The Whitman poem is on the wall in my studio.

  6. "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand," is from the first chapter of Mark. (It's also in Matthew, but he got it from Mark, which was written earlier.) It's right after Jesus' baptism by John, when Jesus is spreading the word through Galilee.

    NRSV translates it as "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

    While Mark wrote in Koine Greek, Jesus would have been speaking Aramaic--close to Hebrew--so it's likely the scholar you quote is correct. But even if he/she isn't, "The time is fulfilled" is clearly about the here and now. I don't think Jesus was talking about the afterlife.

    Thank you for the Whitman poem. I just finished listening to a course on CD, "Songs of Ourselves: Walt Whitman and the Dawn of Modern American Poetry," by Karen Karbiener of NYU, in the Barnes and Noble Portable Professor series.

  7. I hate shitty priests.

    I wonder what suffering is in preparation for though.

    Like meaning you better be able to handle water torture here because when you get there you will be water tortured and have to look at George Bush's face.

    Anyway, I'm glad that you booted it.

    Love Renee xoxo



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