Yesterday I wrote that faith is inseparable from imagination. Having preached that for years, I know from experience that not everyone receives that. For some, the thought of faith being wrapped up with imagination diminishes faith. .
“Faith is about the truth!” They say. “Imagination is about fantasy.”
I half expect them to quote from I Temptations 3:24: “It was JUST my imagination…”. (If they did, I would remind that the group’s name ought to serve as precaution. They are “The Temptations” after all. The devil would like nothing more than for us to divorce imagination from faith.)
To believe is to imagine.
Every Sunday I hold up a piece of bread and I say, “This is the body of Christ broken…” No one questions that. No one says, “With a minute! That’s just a piece of bread!” Everyone sees it as the body of Christ.
I may preach, “To be absent from the body is to be present to the Lord” and the minds of the faithful immediately imagine what that must entail.
“I can only imagine…”
Why am I thinking about this? I am thinking about this because I am thinking about Linda. What is the relationship of this grief I am experiencing to how I imagine her current condition? How has faith, indeed faithful imagination, shaped me for such a time as this?
I think back to that night at the Gray Fairgrounds and the sadness I felt that Linda was missing out, the guilt I felt that I had gone to Tennessee for Christmas without her.
I have been taught that at death a believer like Linda goes to be with the Lord and that nothing can compare to the joy of that reality. However, I confessed that the joy of that reality could not possibly surpass the sadness I felt that she was not with me and missing the sight of a well-lighted cow jumping over the moon.
My grief was compounded by the ridiculousness of that feeling. But, truth be told, that is how I felt. I felt as if I had betrayed her by going to Tennessee without her.
I am convinced that grief is not simply an emotional response to loss but is, in fact, an. altered state of consciousness The cow jumping over the moon is nothing when compared to grief drop-kicking you over Mars.
I know about altered states of consciousness. I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing in the 60s. But, on top of that, I experienced such profound delirium during transplant that it transformed my worldview. As a result, I am even weirder than you might imagine.
Linda was a swimmer. She swam year round if she could. In the summer, we joined a private pool that was part of a particular neighborhood. As long as lightning bolts where not striking close the pool, Linda was in it. She swam non-stop for an hour…well, except when she stopped to investigate the traps around the pool to rescue stranded frogs. (After her swim, she would sit on the steps close to where I sat under an umbrella and rescue stranded carpenter ants from the water. I came to call her ‘Saint Frankie.”)
During the Winter she swam three times a week at the YMCA. We’ve lived in Atlanta for 21 years. She started that routine about 10 minutes after we moved in.
She swam like for at least 40 years.
; At the beginning of summer, I bought her a new bathing suit. She wore it a week or two before she got sick. As I was sorting through clothes, I reached down and picked up that bathing suit. At that moment, some schmuck shot an arrow through my heart.
Let me tell you, and I know this from experience, it is hard to hug an empty bathing suit.
Tell me that grief is not an altered state of consciousness. “He’s lost his mind, someone saw him hugging a bathing suit.”
Except it wasn’t empty. She was in it.
“Oh, that was nothing but your imagination.”
“Uh, if you don’t mind, I take my imagination straight with nothing-buttery.”
But, the critic is right. She wasn’t there.
Linda was the warmest human being that ever lived. Oh, I don’t mean that in terms of relationships. Linda could be a little distant in relationships. No. I mean she was warm. Sometimes I would prosecute her about it, “Have you been tumbling in the clothes dryer again, young lady?” The dogs loved her for that.
I didn’t feel that warmth but for a second she was there.
Well, was she there or wasn’t she?
Here’s something to think about. When a believer dies she goes to be with the Lord. While people say all kinds of things about what happens right after you die, some of those things are not found in scripture.
Scripture is sort of vague about what happens immediately after you die. You go to be with the Lord. You are ‘in the Lord.” You are secure. You are safe. You are ‘asleep in the Lord.”
Asleep in the Lord.
We read that as if it is saying that you are unconscious and unaware in the Lord. But, anyone who has ever paid attention when asleep, knows that sleep is a period of activity. High activity. It is…ahem…an altered state of consciousness.
For example, you are highly vigilant when asleep. Of course, part of you is ‘dead to the world’ (what an interesting phrase, huh?) But part of you is wide awake.
I live in a house that creaks and pops. (My house mocks me since I do too!) I sleep right through those creaks and pops. They are old familiar friends. But, let there be an unusual creak, an unfamiliar pop and I’m sitting up with pie pan eyes. (Did you know we hear with our eyes?)
I wouldn’t assume that being asleep in the Lord is like being asleep in this realm but even being asleep this side of the veil is not a state of total unconsciousness. (I’m not sure how any one could sleep if they were truly in the Lord?!?)
And then there are dreams. Holy Moley. Dreams.
I heard a song the other day and the guy sang “…but I was only dreaming.” ONLY dreaming my hind end!
There is no ONLY dreaming.
If nothing else , dreaming is thought to occur as the brain repairs itself (what? Repairs itself? While I’m asleep?) at night. While you are slobbering on your pillow, your brain is clearing out clutter, hooking up new connections, and generally maintaining itself Some think that dreaming is a side effect of that.
Okay…but why are dreams, though odd, sometimes coherent?
Apart from this trip over Mars that I am currently experiencing, I have experienced three major periods of grief: that which followed the death of each of my parents and that which followed the death of my cousin when I was 16. Each of those seasons of grief were resolved because of a dream…a grief dream.
I am awaiting a visit from Linda. At night, as I turn in, I speak to her and say, “Bud, feel free to come by tonight.” (Over Mars…remember)
She came by the other night but this was not a ‘grief dream.” She and I were in a huge cafeteria and she wanted to sneak into the kitchen. (That was sooo Linda!). While we were creeping around in the kitchen, I noticed a rather large woman watching us in spite of the fact that her hair completely covered her face.
“We better get out of here,” I said, “We are being watched.”
Linda turned to run and tripped over a mop bucket and sprawled onto the floor.
We both broke out laughing. I helped her up and we ran for our lives.
We walked up this hall together still giggling. I touched her arm and stopped.
We hugged. She felt as if she had just stepped out of the dryer.
I woke up…and fought back the tears because they bring headaches.
Oh, that was just a dream.
Oh, that was just your imagination.
I like the idea that Linda is asleep in the Lord. I imagine her snug in his care. Whole. No longer suffering the god-awful symptoms of liver failure.
The only question I have is this:
Does she dream about me?