Friday, May 21, 2010

There will be dancing in heaven

I’m not an art guy. I wish I were because artists are cool. It really is not fair because half of the men on my mom’s side of the family paint and sculpt, and ooze artistic creativity and swagger. The last time I tried to paint, I really wanted to do a good job and follow proper painting instructions. So I spent about an hour searching in my closet for the right supplies. My wife asked what I was doing and I told her “the paint can said, “for best results, to use two coats.” (I know, I know… it’s cheesy. Get over it.)

Like I said, I’m not an art guy but I saw this painting at the Getty museum in L.A. The painting is entitled “A Walk At Dusk.” (It is pictured here on the right) I liked it so much I bought a print of it and have I hanging up in my house. The painting shows a man standing next to a grave, with a new moon forming in the sky. The artist was trying to show the balance, moreover, the interrelationship of life and death. This man is staring down upon death in the grave, while the new moon representing life, shines down from above. Life and death wedded together.

Death is a subject we tend to shy away from. In our minds, death represents the end; it is the unknown, the final frontier. As Peter Pan once famously said “Death is the only great adventure.” Our life on this earth is but a dash, a sprint to the finish line that is over as quick as it started. The Bible says that our lives are like a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes (James 4:14). Or that we are but blades of grass, surely fading fast (Isaiah 40:6). All this talk about the brevity of our existence doesn’t make me want to jump up and down for joy. Honestly, there is a part of me that is saddened by this reality. Furthermore, there is a part of me that wants to prolong life as long as possible. I still have so much I want to do and see and be. Death seems to put an end to our pursuits.

If you’ve ever lost a loved one (whether it be prematurely or even after a long life), the sting and pain of that loss is real. Our family and friends do their best to comfort us with reassuring words and promises, but the truth is we just miss that person. Perhaps, we find ourselves living with certain regrets about the final moments we shared with them. Maybe we ask a number of questions: “Did this person know how much I truly loved them? Did I miss my opportunity to say what I really wanted them to know?” I know this for a fact because I’ve asked myself these same questions. And every time I revisit these questions, the sense of loss comes back. There was a part of me that seemed whole when this person was with me, and now, I feel empty. I tend to see a great disparity between life on earth and existence elsewhere.

But what if there was another way to understand the passing from life on this earth onto the next? What if we could see death and life like more of a connection? I say all of this from a position of faith. I believe when I die, that is not the end; rather, it is the start of a new, eternal existence in heaven. That gives me hope. Moreover, I am able to accept that the reality of heaven is a constant reminder that life, death, and the afterlife are all connected.

If there is such a connection between life on earth, death, and life afterwards, then when someone dies, they never truly leave us. There is just a little bit of a delay before we will see them again. I often think about my grandma who passed away when I was in college. It was a trying time for me, because I felt a lot of regret. I wondered if she knew how much I appreciated her and loved her. The last conversation I had with her was over the phone, hours before she passed away. I miss my grandmother tremendously. It will be six years this September since she passed. She is gone from an earthly perspective, but her words and her presence are still very much alive in me. The memories and lessons she gave me will never be forgotten.

I realize that there is no way to make someone feel less pain when mourning the loss of someone they loved. And there shouldn’t be. There is only a different perspective that says death is not goodbye, nor it is not the end of the story. Recently, I spoke with one of my students who just lost a loved one. He told me how this person was always there for him. She was the kind of person who would listen to his jokes, take him out for ice cream, and even listened to his favorite music when he shared it with her. One of his fondest memories was that they used to dance together. It didn’t matter the genre of music be it rock, dance ballads, or even heavy metal, they just danced. As we were sharing memories and he was telling me about their affinity for busting a move, I couldn’t help but think, “She is still dancing with you. She is not really gone, but still here."

Revelation 21:4 says “[In heaven] there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” I take that to mean that there will be a lot of people celebrating and dancing in heaven. (Except disco. I’m pretty sure heaven will not have disco.) To me, that is a beautiful picture of the connection between life and death—an existence that carries on after grave. It’s like that song in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: “In time, we’ll be dancing in the streets all night.” Even though our dance on this earth will eventually come to an end, we have to remember to keep dancing….all the way to heaven.

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