Posts Tagged afterlife

Different ways to mourn — remembering my dad

My dad passed away three weeks ago. It was relatively fast, being about two weeks after learning he had stage four cancer, but dying can be one of those things that takes both too long and not long enough at the same time. The times he got to play with my kids on the floor certainly weren’t long enough, and the times watching him be in so much pain felt like they would go on forever.

My dad was born in 1931, into a family that was pretty much broken already. When he later got a stepfather, they got on so poorly that dad ended up in an orphanage, which evidently people did at the time. He wandered most of his life, tallying up two failed marriages and five kids in his travels back and forth across the country. He met a girl who introduced him to the Church, but it he wasn’t really interested in religion. The young missionaries didn’t impress him, and he was used to his life doing whatever he felt like doing. Eventually he was befriended by an older couple, who taught and fellowshipped him. He quit smoking and drinking cold turkey, got baptized, and wholeheartedly turned his life to God.

He eventually met and married my mother, 20 years his junior, and they’d been married for 45 years. He could never seem to figure out how to do the whole “parenthood” thing, but one of the biggest lessons I got from him was how to be a Dad. Nothing tangible or easily explained, it just is. Though I don’t recall ever hearing how he personally felt about his faith (aside from various testimony meetings), he did every calling ever requested of him as completely as possible, no matter what the challenge. He was scrupulous in his Home Teaching and often looked for other ways he could serve people around him. His last assignment was managing to get through speaking in Sacrament Meeting the day before he died. He could barely move and had a hard time concentrating on the talk he wrote, but he did it. I have no doubts he knew (and knows) the Church is true, and is now enjoying the time with his parents and deceased children, looking for what work he can be doing.

Mourning has been a bit different in our family. It was sad when he died, but it was also a bit of a relief because of the pain he was in. I think I did most of my mourning when we found out about the cancer in the first place. When my older brother died from cancer 25 or so years ago, all of us in the family kind of mourned on our own, breaking away from each other as if it would be better to not have that connection so we couldn’t hurt so much ever again. This time, it’s been much different.

My living brother and sister were able to be here before he died, and mom and dad lived right across the street from us, so we got to band together in those hard days. Afterward, we were sad, certainly, but we spent a lot more time falling into our old habits of being together as a family. We made really bad jokes. We played cards. Even jokes about death and dying were interspersed through brief times of introspection. I had to go through the mass of genealogical work he’d collected over the years. It was more a wake than weeping and wailing, though without the drinking. We knew he was gone but part of our family forever, and we got to come together like we’d not since before my brother died.

That’s one of the great things about the LDS Church. We can be sealed together forever. Marriage does not end with death. Children can be sealed to their parents in part of a chain back to the beginnings of the world. We can return home to our Heavenly Parents, together, as a family. Death isn’t the end. It’s just a temporary and unexpected journey. The time apart may be hard, but we know it won’t last.

My dad got to live two lives. Most people will never get such a second chance, but he certainly made the most of his. Our family has a long history of fathers who had a hard time staying with their families. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned from my dad and do even more to break that history and make something new.

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Work for the dead done by the living

In LDS theology, there are certain ordinances that are required to progress; Baptism, Confirmation, The Initiatory (washing and anointing), The Endowment (covenants and instruction on how to enter God’s presence), and Sealing of family relationships to be not only for time but for eternity. Temples have been built, as a house for God, specifically to perform these ordinances for the living and dead. (Chapels, which are more common, are where we go for our weekly worship and learning.)

This is one of the reasons Mormons are heavily invested in genealogy and family history work. We believe that “. . . we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.” (D&C 128:18). We believe this to be in accordance with Malachi 4:6 – “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” and 1 Corinthians 15:29 – “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”. So we work to find our dead, that we can serve them by being proxy for them in obtaining these ordinances. This does not obligate them to accept these ordinances, but gives them the opportunity that they might have the choice available to them.

There have been a few arguments against the push for getting more work done. The best one I know of is wondering how we can assume our ancestors would desire these things, believing that we are dishonoring their memory and the lives they have lived or even died for their religion. This concern has brought about a policy that ask we only do work for those we are directly related to. We’ve also been asked that we take extra care in doing work for those who died in the Holocaust, being sure we are a direct descendant. I know of some people who had personal experience with some very bad, even evil behavior from a close relative, and have purposely left them out of their work, only to have it done my some other well meaning person. We do not know how the Atonement will be applied for anyone, but we can still show compassion for others by respecting these wishes.

The other common argument I see is wondering why spend so much time and effort to do this at all, since we will have the entire Millennial Age, when Christ comes again and personally reigns upon the Earth, to do it all. This one has given me much more to think about.

On one side of the complex where I live is a strip of land, about 3-4 feet wide and about 4-500 feet long. When we moved in, there were some awful overgrown bushes on it. These have since been removed and for the past two tears has been left a bit of a lumpy, somewhat weedy, mess. The Home Owners Association hasn’t had the funds to do anything with it, though there have been ideas on what they would like to do with it, such as cover it with gravel or some other cover. The problem is that before anything can be done, the ground has to be cleared and prepared for this.

So, I’ve started digging at it. I’m terribly out of shape, so I can only manage a few feet at a time. It’s going to take weeks if not months to get it done. It could be that someone will come in with some large power digger and do it easily in a day, but that doesn’t matter. As much as I’m doing this work to eventually benefit the community, I’m also doing this for my own benefit.

Temple Ordinance work for the dead is much the same. We gain a closeness to our ancestors by learning about their lives, sitting as proxy for something they cannot do themselves. We can be in symbiosis with our dead, both benefitting from this time we are essentially working together. Doing the work now, even if incomplete and potentially incorrect, also helps make these people more real to us. Is there anyone you can look in the eye now and say, “we’ll get to you eventually”? How would it feel to you to be passed off as one of the less important masses?

Why not wait ’til these people are resurrected and let them do their own work? Aside from strengthening the bond I mentioned before, I think that there is something about these mortal bodies, as opposed to the bodies these people will have when they are resurrected, that is needed for this work to be in effect. For some reason, whatever meta-physical reaction that happens that makes these Ordinances required cannot be done by those resurrected, but can be done, by proxy, by those living and have effect on those once dead. I’ve no idea why or how this is (we can’t even measure spirit and no resurrected person has submitted themselves for testing), but this makes sense to me.

So, in the Millennial Age, there is going to be a lot more demand for the living to do proxy work for the dead. We will have more than 12 Billion people to do the work for, with only the barest fraction done beforehand. The time to get started on this, even if we can only manage a tiny percentage, is now. They need us, and we, even with our modern sensibilities, blessings, and trials, certainly need them.

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Who will we be when we wake?

One of the best episodes of Start Trek: The Next Generation is entitled “The Light Within”. In it, Captain Picard finds himself thrust into a life completely foreign to what he had known. During this new life, he had the knowledge of where he had come from, but nothing else to connect him to his old life. There was no communication possible with the world left behind, nor knowledge in anyone in his new life that any other world even existed. In time, the new life had become his full reality, the past being only a vague memory. When he returned, it took some time for him to get used to the idea that 50 years had not really passed, but only a brief amount of time. To him, however, a full life of 50 years had passed, with a wife, children, and grandchildren. Those memories became a part of him, deeply effecting his life after.

Our life is similar. We came from a place of happiness, with loving parents, brothers, sisters of varying levels of closeness. We have been thrust into a body we have no idea how to make work, into a life completely foreign to the life we knew before, until our previous life fades to a vague memory that we soon forget. We live a full life, hopefully with a new family and friends, getting only impressions of where we were and where we are going after. When this life is over, we will return to the life we had before.

What will we find when we return? We know it will seem we were gone but a brief time. We will know the parents we left, the close brothers and sisters we left behind. We will remember every detail of both of the lives we have lived. Once again using our first life as a baseline, how will we see the new life we have lived? Joy? Horror? Tears? Outrage?

Who will we be when we wake?

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My thoughts on polygamy

In the early decades of the Church, one of the practices that came from questions about some of the ancient prophets having more than one wife was the practice of polygyny (one man having more than one wife).  Instruction was received by revelation, and it was practiced by a number of the leaders and others in the Church.  This caused some divisions and also had some strong supporters, both of those within and without the practice.  The Church officially discontinued the practice (leaving those marriages already entered into intact) in 1890.  The Church had to further crack down on those entering into these marriages since then by excommunicating those within polygynous marriages, and continues to do so today.  This is not only to remain compliant with US law, since even in countries where polygynous marriage is acceptable and allowed, the Church does not allow its members to marry polygynously to more than one living woman at a time.

The “living” part is the one catch that still bothers some now.  Since we believe that marriage is eternal, it is possible to be married to more than one person at a time, which is polygamy (one person having more than one spouse).  While there have been scriptures that can be interpreted as saying that polygyny is an absolute must for anyone desiring the highest order of Heaven, as well as statements from Prophets that it must be so, we also have statements from all the modern-day Prophets and scriptures that say that is not so.

 

For me, one of the big definitions of the Celestial Kingdom (the highest level of Heaven) is that you won’t be stuck with someone you don’t want to spend forever with.  That means whatever marriages are entered into here, even those sealed in the Temple, will not be enforced not only if either party has not lived up to their covenants required for this level of Heaven, but if any of the parties involved does not want to be part of it.  People will not be “stuck” with their abusers, nor will they be forced to stay in a polygamous marriage (men or women) if they cannot wholeheartedly love every other person in that marriage.  When the time for the ultimate decision comes (of which there may be many), we will all have the clarity of mind to know exactly who these other people are and how we feel in ourselves about being with them forever.  Also, those who decide to break from their Earthly sealings because of sin (not their own) or other reasons will not be without hope of finding the marriage they can be in for Eternity.  There will not be an “odd man (or woman) out” because they couldn’t find someone.  Being alone, and the path where that leads, will be that person’s choice, without lack of knowledge or need for excuse.

I don’t find polygamy to be inherently problematic in this age.  In the past, it has been used to control women, but it has also been used to give women more freedom.  That was a side effect of marriage in general in the past, there the woman was considered the property of the man, either her husband or father.  I don’t think that is the optimal way to view a marriage, or has ever been, and we are still working to move to a more egalitarian and balanced approach to men and women in general.  I believe that we are capable of polygamous marriage, but only if is directed toward that Celestial ideal.

 

My wife and I actually talked about polygamy on our first date.  (We talked for a number of hours, so it was one of many things we talked about, the list of which would show how odd we are.)  Our take is that we could accept it if it were asked of us, but we would each need individual confirmation of it and specific direction on it from the Prophet.  That personal direction is important to us, and we’ve had many experiences where we’ve done things as a family that we each got individual direction on.  I imagine a number of LDS couples have had to discuss it at some point, because of the possibility of death and remarriage, since we do believe in marriage for Eternity, rather than “til death do you part”.  Could I ever find someone I love as much as I love my beautiful wife?  I don’t know.  I’d rather not find out.  I would hope, however, that if my wife ever passed away (perish the thought) that I would only accept as another wife someone who my wife could also love with all her heart.

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Roles in creation

I’ve been reading some interesting conversations on comparing motherhood, fatherhood, Priesthood, and the current, not-but-kinda-equal-to-Priesthood, Relief Society.  There is the usual argument about Priesthood being equal to motherhood (which I disagreed with in a previous post), but one aspect of this, the roles we are given, struck a chord with me.  What roles do men and women have, in the eternities, that are comparable to the roles we have here on Earth?

In creating children here on Earth, a man’s role is limited to providing half of a blueprint.  The remainder of the work and materials is provided by the woman.  Will this be somewhat the same in the eternities?  No, I do not mean that women will be resigned to baby-making in the eternities, doing nothing but popping out babies like a queen ant.  What I mean is that in organizing worlds, is it possible that while both men and women will be capable of organizing the raw materials of worlds, will the creation of life itself be only possible by women?  Could it be that a man alone could only organize lifeless worlds, and thus needs a woman to create the vast variety that is life?

This is -highly- speculative.  At this time, with all our knowledge of science, we are nowhere near being able to define how life begins or ends.  Aside from obvious systemic errors, we don’t know why there are instances where there are babies born that do not live once they are taken off the life support of their mother, nor why bodies cease to function.  Creating life is so common as to be taken for granted and so mysterious that we cannot find the why of it happening.  There is so very much we have to learn, if we are to become as our Heavenly Parents.  I hope, as I continue that journey after this life (hand in hand with my beautiful wife, of course), I will be able to accept the truths available then and let go of the misconceptions I develop in this life.

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Why mortality?

In the LDS Gospel, we believe that we lived before this life, as spirits, literal creations of Heavenly Parents.  We also believe that we will have a life after this one, where eventually we will be reunited with a perfected form of the body we have in this life, to continue to progress to being like out Heavenly Mother and Father.  We understand two very specific reasons for this mortality, and have quite a bit of speculation on other reasons for mortality.

First, we needed to have a body.  Our Heavenly Parents had physical forms, but we did not.  To become more like them, we needed to also have physical forms added to us, though these physical forms weren’t without down sides.  The instincts, the nature of these bodies would have both good and bad qualities, which would need to be tempered and brought into submission with the laws set up God (our heavenly Parents).  Giving in to some of these instincts would be a form of sin, with which we could not be in the presence of our God.  To compensate for the inevitable sin by every child of God, a Savior was needed, and provided, in the meridian of time.

Second, there are ordinances that need to be accomplished to both affirm the desire to follow God and endow us with some of the Power of God if we follow His (and Her) will.  This is Baptism and the other ordinances LDS go through for themselves and their dead in the Temple.  Baptism is not simply for cleansing us from sin, but also to show our commitment to follow God’s will.  This is why Jesus also submitted to Baptism, even though He was sinless.  This is why the work to Baptise the dead (by proxy) is necessary for all those who have attained an age where they could make that commitment.  We don’t simply wait for the dead to be resurrected to be baptized, because evidently this work needs to be done by someone who is mortal.  (I don’t know why, but that is the only reason I can see for doing proxy work at all)

Now, to the speculations.  I’d submit one – the need to experience pain.  Everyone, no matter how long they live on this Earth, experiences some pain.  It may be brief, but every one who has lived has experienced both physical and spiritual pain.  Those who have lived the briefest of lives have not only felt the physical pain of their journey to death, but also the spiritual pain of being separated from the mortal parents they were born to.

Some have postulated on the necessities of childbearing, parenthood, marriage, and many other things seemingly necessary to fully experiencing mortality, but all these are extras.  They may be enjoyable, growth inducing extras, but they are extras all the same.  Why some of us need these extras is known to our Heavenly Parents, and we have to trust in their wisdom and timing.  I put these all into extras because all of these do not happen for many of God’s children.  Those of us in mortality do have growth and learning to do in this life, and we should not speculate on why some of us are given some experiences that others are not, but we can trust that the learning and experience we have in this life are intended for our growth, no matter if they are hard, joyful, scarring, or easy.

What is the point of mortality?  In general, we can only come up with a few points.  Individually, we can scarcely speculate, since we have no perspective or even knowledge of each individual in the eternities.  We can only do the best we can with what we have been given, and do our best to help others on their way.

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Connecting the family

In the Doctrine & Covenants, an explanation is given to the verse in Malachi about “turning the hearts of children to the fathers”:

Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming. (D&C 138:48)

This is the reason for the work for the dead, baptism and sealings, that we do in the Temples. All the descendants of Adam will need to be bound together in family relationships. This brings up a variety of issues:

1. Forcing others to become Mormon
While we do baptize as proxy for all of our deceased relatives, whether or not they accept the baptism is their own choice. It is felt that it is better to do the work with the possibility of their rejecting it than to not do the work and have them remain clamoring for it. There was a time when the zeal for getting everyone baptized included random (and not so random) names from various lists, including places like death camps, but it has been repeatedly stressed that you should only do the work for your family, not strangers. Even for immediate family, it should be recommended to talk to those who are living about it before proceeding. If there are objections, then it may have to wait.

2. Sealings to parents or spouses you cannot accept
I’ve seen people worried that they are going to remain sealed to an abusive parent or spouse in the next life because of the sealings that were done at an earlier time. I am sure this is not the case. The Celestial Kingdom will be a place of ultimate joys, not of fear, hostility, or resentment. No matter what sealings were done, no matter what other ordinances were done, they cannot supersede the desire of the people involved. You will not spend forever with a person you cannot stand to be near.

3. Spiritual orphaning
We know that not everyone will accept the Gospel and desire to be sealed for eternity. This creates a minor problem for the others in the relationship. Since these sealings are necessary, it may be needed from time to time for people to be sealed as children to parents who were not their birth parents. I do not believe this will be done lightly, any more than the decision on your placement in your mortal family was done lightly. This should not be anticipated in mortality without all parties alive and in agreement, as we do not know the feelings of those who have passed on, no matter what documents they may have left behind.

Without a great number of records that do not exist or the personal recollections of those who are already dead, we will only be able to scratch the surface of all of the baptism and sealing work that needs to be done. It is, however, important that we do what we can now. It all needs to be done, or as it says in the scripture, the entirety of this world would be a waste.

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