Many people seem to have a hard time understanding that metaphor is not a factual account of reality, especially when it comes to things spiritual or religious. I have lost count of the times I have seen or heard someone say something like, “Uncle Phil has passed, and Aunt Betty, his brother Bob, and Grandma will all be waiting for him in heaven with open arms.” That’s very comforting language for many people, but if we stop to think about it for just a moment we will realize that the bodies of all those people are in the grave – to point out just one problem. Now, of course, the person expressing the sentiment may or may not have meant to create a literal image of a physical body, but how many times have we heard that we will recognize all those who have gone before us when we die and get to heaven – and how would we “recognize” someone if not by physical features? For centuries Christians were opposed to cremation because of the reference to “the dead rising from their graves” when Christ returns. Again, metaphor is confused for fact. We know that it doesn’t take long for the body to begin to decay, and so if something were to rise from the ground it would mostly be dust and a few bone fragments. In the Catholic Church they used to exhume the bodies of those eligible for sainthood to ensure their “flesh had not become corrupt,” which was a prerequisite for sainthood. In actuality, the status of the body when exhumed was more a question of how air tight the container was than a matter of the person’s sanctity.
Will we recognize our close friends and family who pre-decease us when we transition this life? Honesty compels me to say that we simply don’t know because nobody has returned from the dead to fill us in. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with using metaphor to comfort those who have lost a loved one. Speaking just for myself, I don’t find such language comforting but if it works for you, that’s fine with me. So what happens when we die?
It seems to me that wherever we came from is where we return after transitioning this life. That doesn’t mean we become sperm and/or ovum, however. The fact that some of you may be disappointed by that concept really frightens me, to be honest. Philosophically speaking, we have our origin in something bigger than two somewhat intoxicated horny goats humping in the back seat of a ’57 Chevy. I believe that we originate in and return to our Source, however you want to define that. Since I believe that all humanity is an expression of God and returns to God when our journey is complete (define that as you will), I do believe we will recognize one another because we will all rest in God, who is our source. By God I mean that beyond-definition Ground of Being, whose fullness is primarily experienced in emptiness. In any event, we will return to that and perhaps be surprised to see Uncle Phil and your grandmother who always tried to French kiss you all waiting in the fullness of God. Because we will be there, too, we will recognize and understand everything. But if you are waiting for Great Aunt Pearl to be wearing that same urine-stained house coat, you might be disappointed – or relieved, depending on how you feel about ammonia.