“Do not let your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”— John 14:1-4
When I was a kid visiting my mother’s parents in West Virginia, my grandfather used to take my brother and sister and me fishing with him. First, we’d go to the backyard compost pile that fed my grandmother’s flower garden. Grandfather Scott would turn over the pile with a pitchfork, revealing a mass of red wrigglers in the dark humus. We pulled out the worms we needed and dropped them in a used coffee can. Then we all piled in his old station wagon and drove to a pond belonging to a farmer friend. We baited our hooks, set little red bobbers, and threw in our lines.
I can still remember the first time my fishing pole – a dead thing a moment before – suddenly sprang to life in my hands. We pulled out blue gills and sunnies until we had enough, then drove home. Back beside the compost pile again, we watched my grandfather sharpen his thin filleting knife, then gut and clean the fish, sending the guts back to the worms in the compost pile. That evening, he’d fry us up a fish dinner.
I don’t know much about the afterlife. The idea of heaven as a place where I go after I die, a place where I exist as myself in some essential way, is for me more a puzzle than a hope. I can’t say it won’t be that way, of course, but I can’t say that it will, either.
And yet, I do know that the human spirit lives on after death. My grandfather’s spirit is alive in me today. When I watch the still surface of a lake explode with life and feel an answering explosion of joy inside me, my grandfather’s spirit is alive. When I feed my compost pile with kitchen scraps, then feed my raspberry canes from my compost pile, then feed a nephew some raspberry pie, my grandfather’s spirit is alive.
My spirit will live on after I die: there’s no way to avoid it. It will live in my nephews, their children, and their children’s children. It will live in my neighbors, the people I’ve worked with, even the people I’ve encountered on the street or in a community meeting. That kind of afterlife may or may not be what Jesus was talking about when he said that he would go and prepare a place for me in his Father’s house, but I know that it’s true and will be true as long as people exist.
So I pray:
Oh God, help me find a way to live in your house today,
so that my spirit may bring life to your house tomorrow.