Saturday, December 19, 2015

Reflections on the afterlife

There are dreams that you remember long after you’ve had them. They leave an intense feeling in their wake, the kind of feeling that you can carry with you for the entire day after you’ve gotten up. I’ve had such dreams, albeit not many, but those I’ve had often have to do with being visited by loved ones who have died. Both my father and my mother have visited me in dreams, talked to me without my responding, or we have had short conversations. I don’t always remember the specific words we’ve said to one another, but I do know that they are very real dreams and that the messages are not garbled or nonsense. Recently, I’ve had several such dreams, and it got me to thinking about the afterlife. I am starting to really believe in an afterlife, and I have come to that belief after many years of skepticism about its existence. I grew up with the idea that life continues on after death, and I’ve wanted the afterlife to exist. According to my religion, it does exist in the form of heaven, purgatory and hell. It’s been depicted in countless poems, novels and films, all of which have made a huge impression on me. But my skepticism kept me from fully embracing a belief in it. That has changed. It also changed because I began to seriously question the idea of love ceasing at death. How can it be that we work so hard to learn to love in this life and that we love the people we love, only to see that love die with death? It makes no intellectual sense to me, and I tend to reject arguments that make no sense to me. So that too has pushed me to embrace a belief in the afterlife, a place where love lives on, because that makes sense to me.

I searched for afterlife on the internet, and found this description of it on Wikipedia--

In philosophy, religion, mythology, and fiction, the afterlife (also referred to as life after death or the Hereafter) is the concept of a realm, or the realm itself (whether physical or transcendental), in which an essential part of an individual's identity or consciousness continues to exist after the death of the body in the individual's lifetime. According to various ideas about the afterlife, the essential aspect of the individual that lives on after death may be some partial element, or the entire soul or spirit, of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity. Belief in an afterlife, which may be naturalistic or supernatural, is in contrast to the belief in oblivion after death.

This description does not mention dreams at all. Suppose that dreams are part of the afterlife, or at least a portal between this world and the afterlife, through which deceased loved ones can talk to us. Perhaps there are other portals as well. I’m not actively looking for them, but perhaps deceased loved ones need to get in touch with us (albeit infrequently) for one reason or another—to give us a message, to reassure us, or to guide us. Nearly every such dream I’ve had has had to do with something I’ve been wondering about, and I’ve gotten the answer, or at least some semblance of one, in the dream. My mother telling me that she was fine, my visit to the beautiful house where she was living, or telling me that she was worried about someone in the family, or my father telling me that something I had written was good and worth sharing. I trust these dreams; I never wake from them thinking that they are nonsense. I believe dreams are a way of being able to have contact with those we loved who are now dead, or a way for them to contact us if they know that we subconsciously have a desire to talk to them. Now at Christmastime, it makes more literal sense to me when I read the passages describing how Joseph was visited by an angel in his dreams that told him to take Mary and Jesus and leave Bethlehem because Herod was going to search for Jesus to destroy Him, and that they should flee to Egypt. Joseph took his family and fled to Egypt because he trusted the dream and the message.  

It is easy to pay lip service to the ideas of an afterlife, of heaven, hell, purgatory, of resurrection of the body, life everlasting—all the things we say we believe in as Christians. I wonder how many of us really ponder the meaning that lies behind what we profess to believe in. I know most people want these things to exist, but that is different from knowing that they actually do. Most people, myself included, take it on faith that they do exist. But the scientist part of me has always been looking for proof throughout most of my life, for clues, for answers, and I have come to believe that the visitation dreams are evidence that the afterlife exists.

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