by Maria L. Evans
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty
God our brother/sister N., and we commit his/her body to the ground;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless
him/her and keep him/her, the Lord make his face to shine upon him/her
and be gracious to him/her, the Lord lift up his countenance upon
him/her and give him/ner peace. Amen.
–from Burial, Rite II, Book of Common Prayer, p. 501
It’s not every day one bumps into someone who actually plans on being cryogenically frozen, but at the very least this story I recently saw in the local college newspaper brings up interesting musings.
At one level, I totally get why a college-aged person with an inoperable brain tumor might choose such a thing. The overall sense of “unfairness” of a life not fully lived is quite palpable in her story. It’s something I would not choose at this point in my life, but I don’t really know what I’d have considered at her age. I also suspect as our society becomes more and more non-theistic, people will choose hope in a different sort of resurrection. If anything, it underscores the fact that it’s human nature to hope in something. I applaud her for having hope in something, actually.
What it does remind me of, however, are those two decades I mostly hid from a relationship with God through community. I suppose one could say many of us who walk away from that thing we call “the church”and return…well, in a way, we chose to be cryogenically frozen. When I walked away from organized religion in the early 1980’s, my recollection is I did not walk away from God. I could just no longer deal with the growing pain of other people’s notions of a God where I was never enough, and I had all these things wrong with me. When I tried to change them to suit those people (or this God I was not sure about,) it felt disingenuous, and filled me a nagging sense that something was just not right in their assessment of God. I wanted–really wanted–to be obedient to God as I (barely) understood God, but it just seemed impossible to the point I was almost moribund. So I put myself into suspended animation. Coming back into a church community really did feel like a re-awakening, with the antifreeze in my vasculature slowly being replaced with my blood mixed with the Blood of Christ. My heart seemed to go from barely beating back into normal sinus rhythm.
When I think back on those times, those times when thoughts of God were few and far between, it really didn’t feel that awful living that way. I felt fine most of the time as I was living it. But now, with the me that I am presently, I recognize that in some places there was a boredom that I no longer have, as well as a longing of sorts, to fill this blank spot in my soul that I had no clue could actually be filled. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was living in a sure and certain hope of resurrection.
I also think my return to church must have been incredibly labor-intensive for some of the people around me, particularly my one friend who pestered me for over five years to join her at church. Even upon my return, when every step closer to God filled me with a sense of “Ok, when’s the other shoe going to drop? When are these people going to tell me there’s something wrong with me?” I’m sure I was quite annoying to those around me.
Believe me, life in a church community is not Shangri-La. There have been things that have happened in my parish and in the church at large that I don’t think anyone would have blamed me if I walked. It would be understandable. Some days have even been the antithesis of Shangri-La. But I can no longer imagine living my life in suspended animation. I think I’d rather live in this more fully alive state that I’m in, crap and all (and yes, there IS crap living in community with other Christians, I’d be rather suspicious of anyone who says there isn’t) with the understanding I have now already lived out parts of that sure and certain hope of resurrection, and there is more to come. The blood coursing through my veins feels much warmer these days, and I would not trade that for anything.
A lot of press-inches have been given lately to that group we call “the religious ‘nones’,” or the “SNBR’s” (Spiritual But Not Religious,) and much of the popular progressive religious press says we shouldn’t worry about them, they seldom return to church, that evangelism is more or less wasted on them. There have even been a few studies, with data. We fret over the lack of 20 and 30somethings in church, grumble about the aging boomers clogging things up, even use phrases like the “death tsunami” to describe what’s in store for the mainline churches in the next decade, as the silent generation and the elder boomers drop off the map of the living.
Are we really sure about all those declarations of death? Or are we dealing with massive numbers of people who are in a spiritually cryogenic state, who will remain so unless the rest of us who are being re-animated become more fully alive?
Could it be that there are people out there who live in a sure and certain hope of resurrection, and display it all the time in a non-theistic way, but they are simply unaware that it involves God? How does it call us to be more fully alive in the world, and in that sure and certain hope, ourselves?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid