Spiritual direction (2): love and death
Expanding the circle of charity
Next month I turn 68. By today’s reckoning, that’s not “as old” as it used to be, but it’s old enough to have outlasted most of my relatives, friends, benefactors, and mentors. In a few instances, these have been persons of my own generation, but the majority of them have been older than I by a generation or more. Just this past year, three more of the professors who taught me in university and seminary, to whom I owe a debt I can never repay, and all of whom were relatively young men when I first knew them, died. And likewise, two more very dear friends of mine, Sisters of All Saints Convent in Maryland, died as well. Of all those who have meant the most to me during the course of my lifetime, those who have passed away by far outnumber those who are still living. “Living” is, though, an inaccurate term. It would be wrong of me to suggest that those to whom I refer, who have died “in the flesh,” are not living. Indeed, I believe – and in some instances, I’m convinced I know – that they’re not “dead” at all, but alive and present. Now, I’m no spiritualist and I don’t “see dead people” – at least, not as a rule. Nor could I argue a hardline doubter into believing what I believe, nor would I even bother to try (some things are too sacred to dirty by stooping to debate). But I’ve had my intuitions and experiences, and I’m not at all susceptible to the prejudices of materialism, and I’ll just leave it at that. My principal interest in this post – the second in a loosely connected series on some infrequently addressed topics of spiritual life and direction – is how “the dead” play a vital part in our spiritual practice. For some, the very idea may be disquieting (and, yes, I do have a book of ghost stories in print). However, the subject before us here isn’t intended to be morbid or disturbing or about ghosts. It is, though, a topic that wouldn’t have seemed at all alien to the Christians of earlier times – or to Jews, for that matter (“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins”; 2 Maccabees 12:46). Perhaps most surprisingly, this is a post about increasing our capacity to love – a central aspect, it need not be said, of the Christian’s spiritual life.