I updated my will last week.
To my friends, don’t worry; I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. To my enemies, sorry about getting your hopes up. And to Missy, you can’t quite start hosting the Good Faith Weekly podcast by yourself, no matter how much you think you’re ready to go solo.
Concentrating on end-of-life decisions (by the way, everyone should have a will and advance directive), one ponders life beyond this one.
I am not a “mansions-in-the-sky” or “sweet-bye-and-bye” kind of person, but I believe that even after death, we continue our journey into the spirit world accompanied by the divine.
Some call that eternal place heaven, while others call it nirvana. Whatever your particular belief about the celestial might be, most people have a deep need to understand something beyond human life in the world. We want to know whether reconnections with loved ones might be possible or if an eternal existence is feasible.
These beliefs are good and comforting. We all need to be comforted in death and offered hope beyond. Maybe that is why David wrote those remarkable and inspirational words in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.”
As I updated my will and thought about a potential life after this one, my Indigenous roots and ancestors came to mind. Recently, I watched the television show “Reservation Dogs.” It’s currently one of my favorites.
Created by Sterlin Harjo, a Muscogee citizen, writer and director, the show centers on four Muscogee teenagers coping with the death of their friend by suicide. The story is set on a present-day Oklahoma reservation, telling the exploits of the teens and their unique community.
In season two, one of the teen’s grandmothers falls deathly ill. As family and community gather around the house to offer comfort and support, there is a deathbed moment that reminds me of my experiences.
The elders begin to lead the room in song, belting out a sacred chorus in their Indigenous language as the grandmother begins her journey to the spirit world where her ancestors dwell. As the moment grew closer, the granddaughter asked one of her friends to take a plate of food to the backyard, so that when the time comes for the grandmother to begin her journey, she will have food for her travels.
Traditionally, Indigenous people prepare a meal for the person beginning their journey. Sofkey and frybread are often placed on a plate and near the person transitioning to the other side.
After the grandmother takes her last breath, the young teen runs to the backyard to weep. She encounters her grandmother’s spirit as she sets off on her spirit journey. The grandmother affirms the teen, demonstrating the significance of handing down responsibility to the next generation.
As I think about how my ancestors thought about death and the beyond, I gravitate to their understanding of it. It’s an onward journey towards a new reality. However, they are not abandoning this world because a connection is always present.
While most thoughts on eternal life focus on a celestial existence, we must also consider eternal life in the here and now, even if that seems paradoxical.
We pass our presence to the emerging generations by handing down our plates of culture and values. They receive everything about us – good and bad – letting it settle into their minds and souls. Each of us lives eternally through our family and friends, as our lives intersect with theirs.
Remember what Jesus told the rich young ruler to do to inherit eternal life? He told him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow him (Mark 10:17-22). By helping others, the man would have provided an example for others to follow. Unfortunately, he passed on the opportunity.
As we think about the journey beyond, what kind of legacy are we leaving through our words and actions? What are we teaching the next generations who are watching carefully? What kind of planet are we leaving behind? What kind of faith community? What kind of country? What kind of example?
We must do better today so that tomorrow can be an opportunity for the next generations. We must realize our lives intersect with those who came before and those we will leave behind.
One thing remains consistent: Each of us is on a journey in this world and the one beyond.
As Mohican Chief Aupumut remarked in 1725, “When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes, they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
CEO of Good Faith Media.