I apologize for this being a bit long, but there’s something I want to share that made me think about my feelings as a pantheist regarding death and an afterlife. I know pantheists vary somewhat in their views on that, but personally I don’t believe in an afterlife in the sense of a soul going to heaven or hell, or a physical resurrection, or seeing our dead relatives in another life. My idea of an afterlife is in memories and things I’ve written or spoken or taught, genes I’ve passed down, people I’ve touched, and hopefully helping a few flowers or trees grow, too.
Anyway, a young woman here in town recently died unexpectedly after a bout with pneumonia. This is a small town and most everyone here knows someone in her family. My daughters do, I do, so it was pretty shocking and sad. She was survived by parents, husband, children, sister and her family, and a big extended family. So there have been tons of outpourings of sympathy to them all from the whole community, and especially to her sister in person and online. The sister has a side business involving promoting a line of products and she does live feeds and videos periodically on Facebook, with a huge number of followers, and I watched a couple of them yesterday that I could see through my daughter’s FB page. They were from soon after her sister had died, and of course she was crying off and on, but mostly just talking about being real and authentic, feeling sad and irritable sometimes, sitting in the floor crying, all of which I can identify with. She was very thankful for all the love and prayers shown to her and her family. Then she said she didn’t know how anyone could get through tragedies in life without the support of so many people and without faith in God. If someone didn’t know what that kind of faith was like or hadn’t experienced it, to let her know or speak with someone else who knew and they could help them find this for themselves. Knowing the family, I know it is the Christian God and Christian faith she speaks of.
I respect each person’s right to find God for themselves (separation of church and state is another issue). I love sharing pantheism with people sometimes, but I’m not trying to make them become pantheists. In fact, I used to believe in that Christian God myself, a long time ago. But what some people don’t understand is that people like me, who believe God is essentially Nature, not a man, not someone who wrote the Bible, also get through tragedies as well as they do. We are strong and ethical and resilient and love life, and we grieve and cry and love and move forward like they do. They may not understand how we do that because they have relied on their God and prayer for so long and can’t imagine not having that, and I get that’s why a lot of people are drawn to more traditional religions; they need and want more than what they can experience with their senses, more hope that there has to be something else besides this short little life we lead. But I hope through sharing pantheism and my own experiences, that I can at least help them understand that we do get through these kinds of things and we do experience the same tragedies in life and the same feelings of sadness and loss and move on, happy and healthy. This woman is planning and counting on seeing her sister again one day in her recognizable form in heaven. Almost 7 years ago my dad died on Easter Sunday after being sick with an infection for weeks. About 4-1/2 years later, my mom (who was then living with me due to health issues) was in the hospital with pneumonia for weeks and died the week before Christmas. It was the hardest thing I ever went through losing my mom, the only parent I had left, the person who had known me the longest. A grown woman with adult children and a little granddaughter, and here I felt like an orphan. I’m an only child, and I was glad to have my daughters, son-in-law, granddaughter, and 3 cousins at the hospital with me. But that’s all the people I really needed there. My family is very small, private, and we didn’t have huge numbers of people reaching out to us. We have never needed or wanted that. I don’t expect to see my parents again in heaven and I’m fine with that. Some of their ashes are in an urn in my living room; other ashes have been scattered outside. I want people to know that just because we don’t believe in their specific version of God, we can still handle life and death. Yes, I cried a lot and it took a few weeks before I realized I had a day when I didn’t cry even for a minute or two, but I kept functioning and remain hopeful and joyous about this experience called life. I have my own kind of faith, and that is in the cycles of life and nature. Just because my parents aren’t here in front of me, I know I’m connected to them all the time. The pear tree and other shrubs in my yard, my dad helped me plant them. Things in my house, photos, features of my own body, my children’s bodies, our sense of humor, our language, values, our approaches to life, how we deal with people, and tons of memories are very much a reminder of both my parents every day, and we extend those things in some ways to everyone we meet. And now some of their ashes are in the ground and the atmosphere, in trees and leaves. When they died, yes, it made me focus more on the religious aspects of pantheism, but it never made me believe I would see them again as the only way I could keep going on with my life. It never made me turn to the Christian God and to that kind of prayer and belief in an afterlife. It did make me thankful for what I do believe, for every little “ordinary” thing I see or experience, to appreciate and not take it for granted, for the people who are in my life, the animals, everything around me.
I’m glad I have pantheism as my worldview, as my religious path. It makes me happy. It gives me comfort to know I always feel connected to nature, the universe, the people I know and have known, along with the stars and the trees and the creeks and the mountains. This is the only God I need and want. But I wish people wouldn’t think I’m missing something and try to “fix” me or think I even need fixing. My heart goes out to this family; I know it has been incredibly hard for them, and I’m glad they have a way of coping with it and going on with their lives. It’s not a way that would work for me, but it is important to me to have a path to follow and a worldview to believe in and live by, too, and for me, that is pantheism.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press
(Also posted in Universal Pantheists Facebook group, as well as the UPS Ning discussion site)