“See You at the Table”

St. John

This week, I want to consider what it means to experience and cultivate a sense of continued connection with people who have died. With this in mind, I invite us into a place of imagination and wondering. How might we ponder our connections with those who have gone before us — those who have loved us into being?

A long time pastor, and a very beloved professor at Austin Seminary, died of cancer in 2014. His illness progressed quickly, and it was very painful for his family and a large number of people he mentored. When he died, so many of his teachings, stories, and phrases took on even deeper meaning. One of them was this: “See you at the table.”

It was rooted in a conviction that at the communion table, we are invited to share a meal that lifts us up into the life of God, and in the process, we are connected with all those who have gone before us.

This is something I think about intentionally every time I celebrate and share the communion meal. Borrowing language from someone I lost, I take some time and intention in that meal to remember my connections with the “Balcony People.” As he initiated this meal, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Greek word for ‘remembrance’ means something deeper than simply recalling thoughts and memories. This word means ‘to make present.’ We certainly know the heartache of grief and loss, but I truly believe there is still an aliveness to our connections. We can make these present, and it can impact us deeply.

If you are a person who participates in this meal, next time it happens, I invite you to  remember the presence of your loved ones. I’m also of the conviction that this meal is meant to be a prelude to all our meals, so if you don’t regularly find yourself in church services, you need not be excluded from this imagining and making these connections present. In fact, I’m sure there are some unique ways you already do this in your own meals, and we could learn from your rhythms.

“See you at the table.”

Renee Roederer

This post is a part of a series this week. Feel free to check out the other pieces as well.

“Someday, You’ll Be the Love of My Life”
The Fullness of Time?
That Sacred In-between

 

That Sacred In-between

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This week, I want to consider what it means to experience and cultivate a sense of continued connection with people who have died. With this in mind, I invite us into a place of imagination and wondering. How might we ponder our connections with those who have gone before us — those who have loved us into being?

What is that sacred in-between? That space right before death where powerful things seem to happen?

The truth is, I don’t know.

Is it a new reality coming into being? Is it simply (but still, amazingly!) the human brain giving a euphoric experience at the end of life? Is it a liminality between what has been and what will be? Is it an expansion of time — either in reality, or perhaps, in a beautiful illusion during a near-death state?

I don’t know. All I know is that I find it to be comforting.

I mean this: Sometimes, when people near death, they rally quite unexpectedly and receive a burst of strength that seems unexpected. Some appear to experience joy. Or in a last bit of consciousness in their bodies, some experience the presence of people who have died before them.

Before she died two weeks ago, my grandmother Ruby was unconscious and on a ventilator. After the ventilator was removed, she died pretty quickly. But right at the end, she suddenly opened up her eyes, looked up and smiled, and a couple tears dripped down her cheek.

I don’t know what that is, but I find that to be comforting.

More dramatic, when my husband’s grandfather, Bill Knox, died a little more than a year ago, the family marveled at what he experienced. The night before he died, everyone was aware that the end was nearing. But for a few hours, he was suddenly and unexpectedly conscious and aware. He sat up, and for hours, he was in this in-between state. One moment, he would be fully engaged in conversation with one of his daughters sitting next to him, and the next moment, he would announce to everyone that he could see a person from his earlier life — someone who had died decades before. He would say some words aloud to them too. Then, he’d come back to conversation with his family, fully engaged. It seemed that everyone was present to him at once. This in-between state lasted for hours and was a very special, mysterious thing.

I don’t know what that is, but I find that to be comforting.

This week on this blog, I am writing with imagination about our continued connections with those who have died. In doing so, I never aim put a silver lining on loss in any way. I know these kinds of things can be hard to celebrate when loss is recent and grief is acute.

But at the same time, perhaps these kinds of moments can give some solace too. Recognizing this is all a mystery, perhaps we can be comforted by a sense of wonder.

Renee Roederer

Papa

This post is part of a series this week. Feel free to read the other pieces also:

“Someday, You’ll Be the Love of My Life”
The Fullness of Time?
“See You at the Table”

The Fullness of Time?

time

This week, I want to consider what it means to experience and cultivate a sense of continued connection with people who have died. With this in mind, I invite us into a place of imagination and wondering. How might we ponder our connections with those who have gone before us — those who have loved us into being?

What if. . .

. . . those who have died before us aren’t off somewhere waiting for us?

Before moving forward with that question, I want to voice a big assumption today and recognize that it is an assumption. I choose to believe there is a something — not necessarily one concrete somewhere, but some kind of real reality — that we enter after death. Of course, I have no idea what does or doesn’t happen after death, but I am making a big assumption of what I hope: That this isn’t all there is.

So if you’d like, feel free to enter this imaginatively with me. . .

Sometimes, when loved ones transition, we find ourselves wondering if they are meeting with those who have gone before them. I think this is a beautiful reality to ponder. Recently, my grandmother Ruby Foster died, and we found ourselves thinking of her entering a reunion with her husband, Jim Foster, and her son, my father, Kim Foster. I hope that is true. I choose to imagine that with joy and gratitude.

But sometimes, in the process, we still think in terms of separation, like, “She’s with them now. But now, she’s missing us.”

But,

What if. . .

. . . those who have died before us aren’t off somewhere waiting for us?

What if we’re with them?

What if in entering that next reality, they have entered some kind of fullness of time? Sometimes, people say that God exists outside of time with no beginning or end. (By the way, I have no idea how to wrap my mind around what that means or doesn’t mean). But what if in death, we enter the life of God more fully? Or the life of time more fully? Not that we become God or timeless, but that we enter the life of God or the reality of time more fully?

Where I’m really going here is this:

When our loved ones die, what if they’re not only reunited with those who died before them, but everyone, including us?

What if, from their perspective, we’re right there with them? They take a last breath, and then, we’re in the reality on the other side also.

Obviously, I have no earthly (or beyond earthly) idea if any of this is true. But I think it’s beautiful. So I choose to imagine this when I think about those I have lost. I like to think that from their perspective, I’m right there with them. That we all are.

Renee Roederer

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This post is part of a series this week. Feel free to check out the other pieces too:

“Someday, You’ll Be the Love of My Life”
That Sacred In-between
“See You at the Table”

“Someday, You’ll Be the Love of My Life”

David

This week, I want to consider what it means to experience and cultivate a sense of continued connection with people who have died. With this in mind, I invite us into a place of imagination and wondering. How might we ponder our connections with those who have gone before us — those who have loved us into being?

Nine years ago, I had a powerful, imaginative experience after one of my closest loved ones died. We lost him on January 11, 2009. Four months later, in April, I sat in my church office in Austin, Texas and had an energizing, imaginative sense of connection while practicing meditation.

Back in those days, I used to meditate about 45 minutes every day. Perhaps I should get back to this because it did me so much good. A meditation coach taught me how to do it — or rather, various ways to do it — and I made this a part of my daily rhythm.

But on this day in April 2009, I decided to practice meditation a bit differently than I had done before. I decided I was going to have a conversation with David, this beloved one we had lost. Perhaps there were things I might need to say to him. So without planning my words in advance, I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, and entered that time of meditation.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried meditation before, but sometimes, you can get to this very deep place where it feels like you’re dreaming, but you’re fully awake. In fact, you’re especially aware. You’re not hallucinating or anything like that (thank goodness) but allowing your imagination to do whatever it wants to do while you observe and participate. Thoughts, memories, and images often bubble up to the surface.

I entered that kind of depth of meditation, but rather than experiencing a variety of thoughts, memories, and images, I sat there and had a conversation with David in my mind. First, it was remarkable to discover how deeply I had internalized him within myself. It wasn’t as though I would say something, then think, “Hmm. . . what would David say to that?” then tell that thing to myself. No, in this very imaginative moment, I could participate in a give-and-take conversation, like I might, perhaps, if I were dreaming.

Second, I should say this was a “conversation.” I’m not in any way saying that I channeled David in that moment. That being said, of course, I think our connections are very active and alive even after we’ve lost someone, so I’d say the presence of the connection was real, even if I was not channeling him in himself.

All of this, in and of itself, was a profoundly meaningful experience to me. But today, I offer it as prelude to share what David “said” to me in that moment. It turned into this beautiful, imaginative thought that I’ve continued to carry with me when I think about death, and perhaps, what it might be like for us after we experience death.

On that day in April, David said to me:

“When you die, it’s as though every single person who has ever lived becomes the absolute love of your life.  All people — each one, every one. Every single person becomes the absolute love of your life.”

When I finished this meditation, I loved this idea. And I thought, what if that’s true? Or something like it? Wouldn’t that be beautiful? To feel connected to everyone so deeply that it’s as if every single person has been and is the absolute love of your life? What would that be like?

I have no idea — obviously — what does or doesn’t happen after death, but I like to ponder this. I hope it’s as good as this.

And to think this way. . . Well, that has implications for how we live now.

Because right after having this experience in meditation, I began to take a walk around the University of Texas campus. I saw a myriad of students. Many of them were in their own world, walking along with earbuds in, listening to music or thinking their own thoughts. And as I passed them, I kept saying in my mind, “Someday, you’ll be the love of my life. . . Someday, you’ll be the love of my life. . . Someday, you’ll be the love of my life.” I never said that aloud because that would be remarkably weird! But I enjoyed thinking it.

I hope something like this is true.

And if it is, how incredibly special is it that some people are the loves of our life right now? It’s like we get a head start.

Renee Roederer

This post is part of a series this week. Feel free to check out the other pieces too:

The Fullness of Time?
That Sacred In-between
“See You at the Table”

Our Lives Begin Before Our Lives

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I love this photo of a darling 2nd grader. She’s Ruby Mae Foster, my Grandmother, when she was just 8 years old.

My Grandmother died last week. We called her Memaw, one of the silliest sounding Grandma names in the lexicon of Grandma names — though of course, it was not said with silliness but affection. Thankfully, she lived a long, full life. She was partnered with Jim Foster, my Grandfather (Papaw) for many years, though sadly, he died much sooner. She had two children, four grandchildren, and recently met her twin, great-grandchildren who were just born. She also has a great-grandchild on the way, my cousin’s first child.

That same cousin posted this photo on Facebook last week, and I loved seeing Ruby has an 8 year old. I’ve never seen a photo of her this young. And I was instantly reminded of this:

Our lives begin before our lives.

I would not, and I could not exist as the person I am, had this 8 year old also not lived. In part, I come from her. And there is a whole period of her life, a whole historical period, to which I am connected (1933-1982) simply because she lived it before I was born. My life is inextricably linked to these things.

And this is true all the time — yes, in relatives with whom we share DNA, but also, so many others. A whole myriad of humans shape us and continue to shape us.

Our lives always begin before our lives.

I like to wonder sometimes. . .

Who shaped the people who shaped me,
Who mentored the people who mentored me,
Who gave me life in some way before my life ever started, and
How do these people show up in my living?
Perhaps in deeper ways than I am even aware?

Our lives begin before our lives.

And the lives of others are beginning in ours. We’ll meet some of them, but many, we’ll never know about. Individually and collectively, our lives are shaping the particularities that will shape others. It’s not totally deterministic – a good thing, after all, as some particularities are hard. But this is deeply connective. Deeply creative. I think this is a mysterious, marvelous thing.

Renee Roederer

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I’ll be away much of the week to be present at Ruby’s visitation and funeral, so this will be my only post for the week. But when I return, I’ll be right back at it! The best to all of you.

 

 

The Mirror Box

mirror

V.S. Ramachandran designed an experiment that was utterly brilliant in its creativity and its simplicity. Most importantly, it worked. For the long haul, it worked.

Ramachandran is a neuroscientist who is famous for a variety of discoveries about the human brain. In particular, his work has helped reveal the incredible qualities of its plasticity and malleability. Decades ago, he designed an experiment to alleviate phantom limb pain by using two simple mirrors.

Phantom limb pain is a kind of curious thing in and of itself. Documented in medical literature for more than 500 years, many physicians had written about the odd and challenging phenomenon some patients had after losing limbs. For years, even decades, these patients continued to feel a painful sensation in the limb that was missing. Some felt as though their lost arm or leg was held permanently in an awkward or painful position. They remarked that they wished to move it back into a more typical, comfortable position. Of course, that was impossible.

In a flash of curiosity, V.S. Ramachandran created a mirror box. He placed two mirrors together at a right angle and invited amputees to step inside the box. Suddenly, those who, say, lost their right arm, could see their left arm projected on the right side of their body. Inside the mirror box, it appeared that they had both arms. Then, they could “move” their missing limb into a better position by simply moving their remaining limb. And shockingly, this led to actual relief of the phantom pain! For many people, this was a permanent shift.

I love this experiment. I love that it worked. And if you’ll allow me, perhaps we can also enter this as a bit of a life analogy also:

There are times when we face one another too, and our human brains also have mirror neurons. When we see the emotions of the person standing in front of us, the neurons in our own brains begin to fire and sync with the other person. Isn’t that an incredible thing? (By the way, V.S. Ramachandran has done work on this too.)

We face one another.
At times,
we recognize each other and smile,
we demonstrate need to one another,
we marvel in the presence of one another,
and at times,
we present pain:
broken and insecure attachment,
grief and longing,
fear and anxiety.

In all of these, in ourselves and in others, we can choose the intention to see one another well. Certainly, with our vision, we can’t save anyone into wellness. But by choosing to mirror back what is true — love, belonging, acceptance, openness, our own humanity and vulnerability — we can create conditions that allow us to see each other and see ourselves with more clarity.

We can see each other with more truth, more safety, and more healing. This too is brilliant in its creativity and in its simplicity.

Renee Roederer