Across the Pastor’s Desk: Believing in our “what’s next”

Published 8:00 pm Friday, April 5, 2024

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Loren Olson

Last Sunday was Easter, and the story often gets me thinking about life and death, and what’s on the other side of death. Some of us believe strongly in a life after death, others do not, and maybe others just don’t know what they believe. In my professional role I’ll often invite people to share with me what they envision the “what’s next” to be. A lot of people share images of reunions with family and good friends.

Loren Olson, chaplain at Mayo Clinic Hospice

In his play “No Exit,” the existentialist Jean Paul Sartre shared that he thought that hell was other people. We can flip that and say that many of us believe that heaven is other people — the people we have loved. Our family is nearing the third anniversary of my son-in-law’s death, and my grandson was sharing his feeling that his dad is looking in on him from another realm, and that idea brings him comfort and encouragement. We like to think that family are watching over us from another place.

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I knew a woman who felt she was spiritual but not religious, who talked of flitting around the universe like a butterfly after her death. I think she just liked the idea that in the “what’s next” she’d be free from many of the constraints we feel in this world. I talked with another spiritual person who believed that because he had lived a very good life he would be reincarnated as a heavenly, spiritual being. Not that different from what the Christian Apostle Paul wrote about of being resurrected into a spiritual body that is eternal. I’m not real creative when thinking about what might be next. There are moments at our lake place or vacationing on the beach where I think, “This is as close to heaven as I’m going to get.” So, I guess I project that into my thoughts of the afterlife — that heaven’s a party at the lake or beach. But I guess it could even be better than that.

We think of spring as a hopeful time as nature rebirths around us. Easter is not just a day but a season of hope for people of the Christian faith. Dying, for some people, includes the hope that death is not the end but the beginning of the next great adventure. Death is a part of life, but this time of year while we remember the story of Easter and see the signs of spring, may we see death as part of resurrection and God’s making all things new.

Loren Olson is a chaplain at Mayo Clinic Hospice in Albert Lea.