Anyone or any community that does not feel a relationship with the dead has lost its soul. But the dead have become strangers to us. This doesn’t matter when it involves those who fell in ancient battles or even contemporaries whose deaths we hear about on the news.
It is painful when it involves those we have loved and given our heart to. That they should so suddenly move beyond the ways of friendship and intimacy that we used until their last breath is devastating. Far worse than someone we fell in love with on a train getting off without looking at us. The dead we have loved get off the train that we have sat on closely together for years and don’t look back.
Do we experience the kindness of strangers from the realms of the dead? It is good to think that we do. But can we be sure that it is not our needs that are creating the sense of a bond of love stronger than death operating through all the dimensions of reality now separating us? Without asking that question we could never be sure that the milk of human kindness can flow to and fro across the frontier of death. There are things that we have to remain uncertain about if we are to experience them.
The kindness of the estranged dead towards us is felt in a state of uncertainty. This results from detachment from rational and evidence-based proof. Communication with the dead based on the senses, messages or moving objects is less authenticating than that felt in the intuitions of the silent and thought-free heart.
It is felt when we who are alive have touched a deep enough level of silence. In this silence, where the dimensions of space and time are folded inwards, the great communion of saints exists. Those who are there – and who can say that everyone isn’t there – are free from the kinds of individualism that both united and separated us in this life. Individualism is what makes us recognisable characters in the great stories of life. But if the continuation of life into the next dimension were simply another episode in the TV series or a chapter in a book there would only be an anti-climax to look forward to. The strangeness of the dead must (possibly) be due to their being alive in a different way.
To be oneself and to be in union is a hard thing to imagine and an even harder thing to achieve. But it is the deepest longing of our heart, for a kindness that escapes from the web of fantasy and is verified by an undeniable experience of reality. Perhaps meeting the stranger who is inexhaustibly kind to us and to whom we long to give our self is the meaning of life after death. And perhaps we come closest to it when we pass beyond death by pulling out of the gravitational tug of the ego with its forces of desire and fear. Then our embrace of the stranger becomes the finding of our true self in the other.
That is something that can happen any time of the day or night, anywhere, with anyone, in any period of our lives. Including Thursday in the fourth week of Lent.