Calming End of Life Fears
I’ve never had a near death experience, but those who’ve had one, report the extraordinary view of their body from above it, usually in a corner of the ceiling. To me, this is the soul’s view. One of my friends described the overwhelming sense of peace she had while she watched the doctors working on her body, and told me she no longer fears death because of it.
Priest and author John O’Donohue tells a story of a 26 year old young man who died in a village in Connemara, Ireland. At the cemetery as his body was being lowered into the grave, his younger siblings began crying. Their mother spoke to them in Gaelic. The English translation: “Don’t you be crying now. There’s no need to be sad. He’s not there. That’s just the covering he used while he was here on earth.”
If we’re talking soul here in Soul Matters, let’s address the elephant in the room. What is soul anyway? Something under our body’s covering? We use the word ‘soul’ loosely, it seems to me, in American culture. We list it as a genre in music and food. Spiritually, we’re aware of it peripherally at the edge of our consciousness, but unsure of its existence, much like a ghost.
The Catholic Church teaches us that the soul is life, that when the body dies, the soul leaves it. The human soul is created for immortality. Without knowing that who you are has an existence above and beyond your body, it is easy to understand the fear about what happens when the body dies. It seems to be an end. We imagine when the person dies, they go somewhere to eternity far, far away. We think spatially and imagine heaven and hell as places somewhere in a world well beyond our own.
Meister Eckhart was asked once, where does the soul of a person go when a person dies. He answered, “No place.” The eternal world isn’t a place at all. It is a different state of being.
“When the soul leaves the body,” says John O’Donohue, “it’s no longer under the burden of space and time. In other words, the soul can be anywhere that it wants to be now. That’s why I believe the the dead are our nearest neighbors. I believe that the souls of the dead are all around us.” The only difference between us and the souls of the dead are that they are in an invisible form, O’Donohue proffers. I can buy that. Many of us have had experiences of sensing the presence of dead relatives, children, or spouses very near us. On Father’s Day this year, I stood in the hall of my house, my hands akimbo, and knew my father was standing very near me.
The soul is the part of us which is not our physical body. That which knows its Creator. That which is meant to live with God forever. It is the ground in which my heart is rooted. It is to whom God speaks when He reaches out to me. It is the part of me that recognizes the nearby presence of familiar souls who are no longer living in their human bodies.
What does soul mean to you?