And, while I’m on it, what is the meaning of life?
I officiated at another funeral this week and as I looked at the group of mourners, unable to hug each other, unable to console each other, I wondered this. It’s even harder to find an answer in these times of isolation and chaos.
I am not a minister of God. I am not ordained and I am not religious. I’m not non-religious or irreligious either. I am not an atheist, nor am I an agnostic and I can’t really call myself a humanist because – although I hope that I make ethical decisions – I don’t always trust in the science either. And I know what I think, but I don’t know that I know there is, or isn’t an afterlife. So what in the hell (pardon the pun) am I and where is God in all of this? It’s pretty important for me to figure this out when, as a Celebrant, I have such a central role in saying goodbye ‘forever’ to someone’s loved one; if I am able to offer those grieving some means of support.
And, if I am to pay proper respects for the loss of that unique life and the grief of those who mourn for it, with their myriad beliefs.
I turn to two eminent theorists for some help: Deepak Chopra, dismissed by some as one who uses ‘quantum jargon as plausible sounding hocus-pocus’ and Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist, both of whom have/ had explicitly expressed their ideas about how the universe and life and death have meaning. Despite being almost diametrically opposed in their scientific and spiritual beliefs, their views helped me to find my answer.
In Egyptian mythology, there is a story that says that when a person dies, the soul travels to a different dimension to undergo a life review. In that timeless, space-less realm, the god Anubis places the recently deceased’s astral heart on a scale to weigh it against the feather of truth. If the heart is lighter than the feather, then the soul is liberated for eternity. If the heart is heavier than the feather because it is filled with regrets, resentment, and remorse, then the soul is sent back for another lifetime of learning and evolution.
This ancient myth offers a powerful message to lighten up . . . to let go of the emotional burdens that weigh us down, disturb our peace, and make it difficult to be fully present. For many of us, one of the biggest emotional burdens we carry is a lack of forgiveness – for others and for ourselves.
If you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
One day, I hope we will know the answer to the question. But there are other challenges, other big questions on the planet which must be answered, and these will also need a new generation who are interested and engaged, and have an understanding of science. How will we feed an ever-growing population? Provide clean water, generate renewable energy, prevent and cure disease and slow down global climate change? I hope that science and technology will provide the answers to these questions, but it will take people, human beings with knowledge and understanding, to implement these solutions. Let us fight for every woman and every man to have the opportunity to live healthy, secure lives, full of opportunity and love. We are all time travellers, journeying together into the future. But let us work together to make that future a place we want to visit. Be brave, be curious, be determined, overcome the odds. It can be done.
The answer is, it makes no difference at all where each of us thinks God is. Whether you think He is responsible for the creation of the universe or whether you think there is no possibility of a creator because there is no Time for one to have existed in, it makes not one jot of difference. What makes the difference is making the most of this one life, right here, right now, even at a funeral.
The responsibility for living a rich life where mind, body, heart and soul are aligned is entirely in each individual’s hands, not in those of any God. I don’t think that in my lifetime, nor in any rite of passage service, I will marry the blind dogma of religion with the conceited certainty of science but I can discover what it was about a person’s life that made them vibrant and what it is that will ensure their legacy lives on. If we can liberate souls by letting go of regret, remorse and resentment; if we can forgive often and always, but especially forgive ourselves; if we can stay interested and engaged in learning about lives, about spirit, about science; if we can be respectful, open-minded, tolerant; if we implement the solutions that both science and spirituality determine will lead to healthy minds and bodies, healthy environments, a healthy, optimistic future, with love for ourselves and for all life on the planet…
…there we will find all that is holy. There we will find love.
There we will find God.