Letting Go (Death) is Hard but Practice Makes it (a Little) Easier

Column by Rev. Deshna Charron Shine on 11 January 2024 0 Comments

When I think about my parents dying, emotions are quick to the surface, tears arise, and my heart squeezes. Death is one thing we all experience, and yet, it is the scariest, most traumatic thing we face as humans.

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What is ‘spirituality’? Is there a separate realm that exists alongside our physical world? Do we have spirits? How is spirit different to emotion or imagination?


Dear Jeff,

Nailing down the reality of “the spirit”, something we call “spirituality”, or identifying a spiritual realm separate and distinct from the world we can communally experience is a challenge. All these things are inherently intangible and experiential. One’s experience of a piece of sculpture is rarely the same as someone else’s. There are certain ceramics I cannot touch without flinching, and styles of music I love that makes my partner cringe. As individuals, we experience the world within the intimate nature of our own senses, emotions, traditions, and, yes, beliefs. Spirituality is no different.

A tree falling in the forest makes sound only if someone or something with the necessary aural circuitry is around to translate into sound the vibrations caused by its crack and crash. If humans hadn’t evolved that circuitry, we’d be living in a world that operated without any concept of sound at all even if every animal around us were able to hear. Without the necessary physiological assets required to discern anything we might call a spiritual realm, we’re in the same boat. Our civilization cannot confirm the reality of such a realm because there’s no evidence that can be replicated from one person, community, or generation to the next. Each experience of such a thing is just that, an experience; not much more can be said of it.

But anger or joy or hope are experiential, too. We cannot say that one person’s anger is the same as that experienced by another. We might be able to measure blood pressure, but that’s not the experience of anger any more than measuring sound waves calculates the experience of a symphony. Whose right is it to say that a spiritual experience isn’t something that is real to the person experiencing it? Certainly not mine. Whose right is it to undermine or deny the solace someone experiences within the spiritual practices of their tradition or worldview? Not ours.

Neither is it appropriate, however, for us to allow the spiritual beliefs or practices of individuals or groups to intervene in the lives of those who do not hold those beliefs or find meaning in such practices. Rarely, if ever, has religion been used in the political realm as a tool to promote spiritual development. If it is present there, it is usually wielded as a tool of power for the purpose of naming what is good and what is evil. In the United States, the current rise of white evangelical power in the political realm will impose beliefs - underscored by a strong call to spiritual practice and devotion - upon the public. In contrast to the personally meaningful practices of a deeply spiritual individual, the spiritual demands of a politically validated religion can become very, very dangerous indeed.

~ Rev. Gretta Vosper




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