Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Faith Works 2-05-05
By Jeff Gill

Father Tom Shonebarger, pastor some years back at Blessed Sacrament in Newark, had an observation about the beginning of Lent that has stuck with me. (Yes, Lent starts this week!)
Father Tom suggested that “we should contemplate our mortality” as a spiritual discipline. Contemplate our mortality as finite beings, as human persons who will have a date on the other end of a “dash,” and meditate on the fact that the world will continue to rotate and vegetate and motivate even after we’ve, well, died.
Right: as a Catholic priest (now serving over in Columbus at St. Timothy’s), Tom affirms the Christian teaching of resurrection. But his point was that we shouldn’t skip right ahead to heaven and eternity, but let the solid grounding of our limitations enter into our hopes and dreams. Many of you will hear versions of this further on in Lent, when clergy of many denominations try to get us to not skip from peak to peak in Holy Week, neglecting Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to jump straight from Palm Sunday to Easter.
A different take on “contemplating our mortality” is making a splash on television right now, a show called “Medium.” An hour long drama based on a woman who claims to see and talk to the dead, helping to solve crimes (of course), has been one of NBC’s biggest new hits.
Meanwhile, Sylvia Browne is a regular on Larry King’s CNN show chatting with the dearly departed, with shows featuring James VanPraagh and John Edwards (no, not the coiffed lawyer who ran for something lately) racking up decent cable ratings while asking “do you know someone who has passed with a ‘T’ in their name? They’re behind you now.”
And this very newspaper runs ads from local psychic counselors who claim much the same skill, and are making enough of a living to indicate that there’s a market for mediums in this large county. In fact, just off the Sweet Corn Festival grounds in Millersport is Summerland Beach Road, almost all that’s left of a century-ago camp for Spiritualists who had organized an church around services where you talked to those who had passed over to the “Summerland.” Members of this church can be found dotted around central Ohio.
For many believers, this subject is a tricky one. Most Christians would strongly affirm “life after death,” while being, shall we say, “agnostic” about communications with the saints in heaven. Some point to Deuteronomic passages and call it wrong if not evil, while others can rightly note that Saul consulted the medium at Endor in I Samuel 28 to speak to Samuel’s shade…note how that all turned out, though.
Best known is the encounter known as the “Transfiguration,” where Peter sees Moses and Elijah standing conversing with Jesus. No one other than Jesus heard what the departed had to say, however, and putting ourselves in Jesus’ place is dicey for this kind of situation.
I’m quite certain that there are people who are sincerely convinced that loved ones have returned to communicate something important to them, most often in dreams. These encounters can be very significant for both the resolution of grief and and the solution of personal problems of the living, and I take them very seriously when talking to a person about them.But do people really hear from the dead? I can’t rule it out, scripturally or personally. They are, perhaps, moments when we are indirectly, gingerly acknowledging that endings and resolution are matters rarely far from our minds, consciously or not.With Father Tom, i'd have to agree that "contemplating our mortality" is harder to do than envisioning eternity, but might just be a good way to bring both mind and heart into alignment.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. You can reach him (while alive!) at

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