by Laurie Gudim
Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” – Mark 12:24
Today I am helping to put on a funeral – not my favorite sort of party since the woman being honored is dead and we will miss her terribly – but glorious and full of exquisite mystery nonetheless. In fact, there is very little of the usual ambivalence in this celebration. At 95, nearing the end of a full life as first a Dominican woman religious and educator and later as a laicized policy maker and social activist, Mary Jane had declared herself more than ready to break free of her mortal bonds – or, in her words, to “pop off”. She was looking forward to the next adventure, to coming to understand God more fully – and to having some of her most pressing questions answered. I’ll be lifting a beer in her honor later this afternoon, and you can do the same if you’re so inclined. She used to say, “The only bad beer is no beer,” so this seems a fitting tribute.
When I was sitting with her at the hospice center as her body was in its final labor, I could feel her spirit, like a giant, multicolored sun coming out from behind the clouds. And it made me wonder: what are we, really? What do we become, freed into eternal life? We are each one of us breathtaking, beautiful beyond words – I have no doubt of that.
It is very difficult not to apply our linear, three dimensional thinking to our understanding of God. We confine the infinite, ever-creating presence of Holy Mystery to the small room of our imagination. Then we come up with strange ideas like the limited afterlife the Sadducees in today’s Gospel story envision and reject.
Our exploration of the universe was never meant to be limited to the small purview of our minds. It is the heart that expands with the sense of wonder, the soul that opens to the world with joy. When you walk down the street after a rain and see the limbs of trees in all the puddles, sky on the street and sky above – when you learn how a forest communicates with individual trees – when the gentle deer comes to the edge of the yard just as you are easing the back door open and you feel the wonder of its alien awareness – that is the expansive understanding for which we were created.
We were designed to listen with our hearts, to perceive with the eyes of the soul. Praise and enjoyment of God’s flamboyant, enthusiastic artistry expressed in all the beauty of the world – indeed of the universe – is our duty. We have this promise from Jesus, articulated in today’s reading, that we will rise from death to be like angels in heaven – and that promise, if we really think about it, makes life deeply worry-free. We have time to look around, time to hug the world close, time to savor and to appreciate. As we help create a world where everyone has the leisure and the well-being to enjoy God’s ever-unfolding artistry, let’s not forget that we, too, need to appreciate the miraculous bounty of beauty that surrounds us – and to praise its Maker.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.