Nineteenth Century American spiritualist, Reverend Luther Beecher, wrote a beautiful reflection about death called “Gone From My Sight,” sometimes referred to as “The Parable of Immortality.”
You are standing upon a seashore as a ship at your side spreads its white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the massive blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. You stand and watch until she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other on the horizon. Then someone at your side says, “Look there, she is gone!” But actually, she is only gone from your sight—nothing more. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when leaving your side, just as able to bear the load of living freight to the destined point. The diminished size is in you—not in her. And just at the moment when someone at your side says, “She gone!” there are eyes watching her arriving onto another shore and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Look, here she comes!”
Van Morrison’s 1970 song, “Into the Mystic,” gives us a similar notion of being overtaken by a mystery far beyond our comprehension, transitioning from this life—which is limited by space and time—back into eternity that is not contained by either. He begins by stating: “We were born before the wind—also younger than the sun…” The wind is a chief symbol of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, while the sun, center of the universe, is a symbol for the Son of God. At the beginning of creation, the Holy Spirit hovered over the chaotic waters bringing order to the disorder of pre-existence; in that unfolding process God created humanity—not just one man but us! In that sense, we existed long before we were born into space and time; we are part of something far greater than ourselves. Though his tune is about a sailor at sea who thinks about returning to his lover, below the water’s surface (below the chaos of this world’s challenges), it is also about us returning to Love itself. He croons: “Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic…” We surrender ourselves to the immensity of the mystery from which we are created.
It seems heavy. As Jesus said: “I am in you and you are in me, just as I am in the Father… we are one…and the Holy Spirit will be with you till the end of time.” But it is also simple. Like God, we are a trinity. We are body, soul, and spirit. The body returns to its finite particles, ashes to ashes and dust to dust; the soul goes to God’s eternal care to know a love beyond our imagining and beyond the horizon; and the spirit quietly and majestically remains present to those we have touched in this existence much as Jesus’ Spirit remained present to those He touched. Our spirit mixes with the Holy Spirit as we gravitate into the mystic. Mary Elizabeth Frye’s poem summarizes it well: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep. I am the thousand winds that blow; I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain; I am the gentle autumn’s rain. When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft star that shines at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there; I do not die.”
As Morrison attests, “…then magnificently we will float into the mystic.”