Surveying Fifty Years with the Class of 1955

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 19 October 2005 0 Comments
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My question for you concerns prayer that is directed to
those other than the ultimate God. People pray to humans who
have moved on to whatever happens after death - to Jesus of
Nazareth, to Mary his mother, and to the vast litany of
saints, many of whom have been declared patrons of causes,
events and professions. All of these are, or were, human
beings who have passed over the threshold of death. Does not
this type of prayer assume the immortality of the individual
human spirit or soul? What are your thoughts on the
existence, activity and power of the individual soul/spirit
after death? For example, I admire the writings of Thomas
Jefferson but I don't try to contact him in his "other world"
for enlightenment. Why should I pray to St. Cecelia to help
me play the right notes or to St. Jude for some lost cause,
or to St. Mary to intercede for me with her son? Do these
individual souls still exist and do they have any power or
inclination to relate to us? Why should I pray to Jesus of
Nazareth if he has returned to the Divine? If God is indeed
Being, Life and Love, do not all human souls melt back into
this Absolute after death? In a larger sense if the
individual spirits of the saints remain intact, does not the
soul of every human endure eternally as a unique spirit?
This has become a major stumbling block on my path to the
Divine. Can you help?


Your questions have much to commend them. My bet is that
you grew up in a Roman Catholic background where the Virgin,
St. Cecelia, St. Jude and other saints were important parts
of your culture. You also seem to be in contact with some
eastern religious thought with your idea that all souls melt
back into the Absolute after death.

The bottom line is that no one knows what happens after
death and the world is reeling today somewhere between the
death of traditional religious language and the need to
process contemporary religious experience. I am not sure
where we will end up.

I suspect praying to saints began because they were so
human and God, even Jesus seemed so distant, so unreal. It
was not long after these practices were adopted that cults
devoted to Mary and various saints developed and they in turn
spawned cottage industry in medals, icons, etc. I think most
of that represented a superstitious past that is dying.

My only word to you is that I am so busy living that I
don't waste much time trying to figure out what happens after
life. I believe in life after death but I can't define it.
I believe in life before death and I intend to live it. I
commend a similar pattern to you.

— John Shelby Spong

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