On Death and Dying

This past week I attended A Dialogue on the Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Aboriginal Worldview  sponsored by the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. I must admit, I attended this event under duress. One of my professors made the dialogue part of his course requirements and since it landed at the beginning of a week in which a lot of assignments were due, it is unlikely  I would have gone without this “little push”.

It was a day of learning new things, some of which I am still processing. I learned how aboriginal spirituality is tied to the land and recognizes the spirit in all that grows on it; the tree people, the rock people, the green people, the winged people, the four leggeds and the two leggeds. It’s a paradigm that is outside of, but intersects with, my own in various places..

Rev.Ray Aldred, was the keynote speaker for the day, an ordained minister and associate professor at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary. His presentation was insightful and interesting, but it was something  he said later in the day, as part of an informal panel, that has been working over in my head through the week. He was talking about death and said  one of the greatest gifts the older generation can give the next one is to go to their ancestors, to die.

Now, to be fair, he never used the word die, that is my word clarifying the going to the ancestors words. The way  he said it, the “going to the ancestors” was just part of the cycle, a carrying on in a different place, the next stop on the journey, a continuation along the trajectory of life. In fact, it was a gift to the next generation because it gave them an opportunity to step up and use their gifts of leadership in the community.

His words made me wonder, as he spoke easily about a topic  we non-aboriginals avoid, if he is typical of his people. His “going to the ancestors” was as logical and inviting as my saying  “I’m going to be a grandfather”. There seemed to be little angst since the going was to those  he already knew. There was no indication of meeting the Great Spirit, of standing in judgement, of counting on the blood of the Lamb, just going to a family reunion. There was no talk of streets of gold (would I even like streets of gold?) rather, a feeling of coming together with people who are loved, in a place that is known and valued, a natural transition. Something to be expected, expectantly.

Our Christian view, of death as an enemy, a defeated enemy, but still an enemy, does not lend itself to embracing this transition  each of us will face as a natural part of the cycle of life. We still see death as the punishment for sin, rather than a gift to future generations, an unnatural intrusion into a perfect world, rather than a natural transition to the arms of the ancestors.

I will continue to mull and ponder.

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