A curriculum for families and small groups
Week One – March 4th
What happens when you die?
Introduction and Sticking Around/Ancestor Worship
Supplies Needed: Question bowl, toilet paper tubes, ping-pong balls or Styrofoam balls, scissors, paint, markers, yarn, fabric, feathers or other materials for decoration
We light this flame to guide our search for truth, and to remind us to look on the world with bright eyes, and to meet the world with warm hearts.
We are Unitarian Universalists (shape hands fingers up to form two “Us”)
This is the home of the open mind (touch fingers to forehead and open out)
This is the home of the flaming chalice that lights our way to truth. (cup hands thumbs out and hold up)
This is the home of the loving heart (fold hands over heart)
This is the home of the helping hands (hold hands out)
Together we care for our earth
And work for peace in our world. (join hands amongst the group)
Or, for older kids:
In the freedom of truth
and the love of justice
We bring all that we are
to shape what we yet can be.
You may wish to start this check-in time with the words “We are a family (or community). What touches one of us touches all of us, and so we take this time to listen to each person remember and share one thing from the past week that made a difference in their life – something that made them happy, or sad, or proud or sorry or grateful.”
Allow your body to get still and quiet as you concentrate on the flame of our chalice. See how it moves slightly in the air, responding to every air current and breeze. It looks like a live thing, dancing in front of us, a lively, beautiful little spirit. (Blow out flame.) So easily the flame is gone. Where does it go when you blow it out? Is it around us in the smoke that you can smell? Is it just gone? Can you picture it in your mind? Do you still hold it in your heart? (Relight flame) Is this flame the same one that was here a moment ago or is that flame gone forever?
One of the great mysteries of life, one of the great questions that everybody wonders about, is what happens when we die. We know that no one lives forever, that every living being will, sooner or later, have to die. What we don’t know is exactly what that means. We know what it means for a body to stop working, for the heart to stop pumping and the brain to stop sending signals to the rest of the body to move or remember or see. But no one can say for sure whether there is some soul or spirit that continues on after the body dies, and what might happen to that spirit after the body dies. Different religions and different individual people have different answers, and we’ll be looking at some of them this month. We’ll start, as usual, with our question bowl. As the bowl comes to you, please share with us any questions you might have on the topic of death and dying.
One of the questions that many people ask about death is “Why does everyone have to die?” Here is a story that tries to answer that question from the Wintu people, a Native American tribe that used to live on the west coast of the United States.
The Road to Olelpanti
A Story from North America
In the far-off beginning, before there were any Indians living, there was another and very different race of people on the earth. For thousands of years this first race of people had been living together peacefully and happily. But as their numbers multiplied and the earth became crowded, these first people began to quarrel and fight. And Olelbis—The-Great-One-Who-Sits-Above-the-Sky—decided something must be done.
This is what he did. He turned the people one by one into other kinds of living creatures. Some he turned into trees and flowers; others he turned into birds and insects, and still others into land animals and fish. You might say only a handful of people were left. And all of these were old people who would soon die. Among them was Sedit, the Coyote man. The earth in time grew very beautiful with green grassy plains and wooded hills and rivers, where animals of all kinds and birds and fish lived without fear of human hunters.
But Olelbis—The-Great-One-Who-Sits-Above-the-Sky—was lonely hardly any human beings on his world. So he thought out new plan. He would create a new race of people. He would make the first man and woman come out of the first tree he had made. This time he wanted people to learn to live together happily and peacefully. How could he help them? Perhaps if he made them immortal they would be happy, he thought. “I will make them so that they will never have to die.”
So Olelbis called the two Brothers Hus, who lived with him in his beautiful Sky Land of Olelpanti, and said to them: “Brothers Hus, I have a great work for you to do. Fly down to the world below where the first tree is growing. Soon I shall cause men and women to come forth out of that tree to live on the earth. But before this happens, you must build a road leading from the earth to Olelpanti. Gather great stones from the hillside and pile them one upon the other like steps leading up to the sky.”
“For what purpose do you wish so great a work done, Olelbis?” asked the Brothers Hus.
“It is because I wish that the new race of people, whom I am about to bring forth from the ground, should never have to die. I desire that when they grow old they may be able to renew their youth. I shall, therefore, place two springs at the top of the road that you build, so that when a man grows old, he may climb up this road; and when he reaches the top, he may drink out of one spring and bathe in the other spring. Then his white hair will become dark again and his bent and crippled body will become strong and straight. If an old woman climbs up the road and drinks of the one spring and bathes in the other, she will come out a beautiful young girl. When these people grow old a second time, they may climb they road again and return young and strong to live anew. So shall the people of the earth live on and on forever.”
When Olelbis finished speaking, the Brothers Hus said, “We will do as you have commanded us.” So they gathered their tools, and, spreading their wings, they flew down to the earth to begin the work of building the road of stones.
By the end of the first day, they had piled the stones as high as a house. By the end of the second day, the road was as high as a tall tree. By the end of the third day, it was very high indeed. By the end of the sixth day, the road was touching the clouds. Yet it was still a long way from Olelpanti, and there was much more work to do.
A little before noon on the sixth day, as the Brothers Hus were working, they saw someone walking toward the beginning of the long road. He finally reached the place and sat down beside the road to watch the Brothers as they worked. They knew it was Sedit, the Coyote man, but they said nothing.
“What are you doing here?” Sedit finally asked. “Why are you building this road? It is a great deal of work, and does not seem to be leading anywhere. Can you tell me what it is that you are doing?”
“Olelbis has commanded us to build this road,” said one of the Brothers. “Olelbis is planning to make a new race of people come out of the earth. Before he does, he wishes to have a road built reaching from the world to Olelpanti. At the top of the road Olelbis will place two springs.”
“That seems strange,” objected Sedit, the Coyote man. “There are springs enough on the earth. Why should there be more?”
The other Brother went on with the story. “Olelbis has plans for these springs. As people live on earth they grow old. When people grow old, they become weak and bent and unable to do their work. Olelbis does not wish them to grow old and die. So he plans that when people grow old, they can climb this road, and bathe in one spring and drink from the other. Then they will be young once more.”
Sedit sat quietly for a time, thinking of what the Brothers had said. “Do you believe all this?” he asked at last.
The Brothers Hus were surprised. They had not thought of questioning the plan of Olelbis. But they were interested to know what Sedit meant. So they asked, “Why is it not a good plan?”
“What will people eat if nothing dies?” asked Sedit. “Deer will not die. Fish will not die. Men will not be able to kill anything. What will be left to eat? Nothing but acorns. How uninteresting it will be to live without hunting!”
The Brothers Hus began to be troubled. But Sedit had much more to say.
“I think it is better that people should marry and that new children should be born, than that old people should be made young. If they marry, the men will work for the women and the women will work for the men, and so they will help each other. If a man has a wife, he will catch fish and kill deer and bring them home and give them to his wife to cook. And if the woman has a child, her neighbors will say, ‘There is a nice baby over there,’ and they will go to see it. And so they may be glad together.”
“But if someone dies, everyone will mourn and be sad,” said the Brothers Hus. “That surely cannot be good.”
“When a man grows old, let him die,” said Sedit. “When a woman grows old let her die. When they die, the neighbors will come and say, ‘A man has died,’ or ‘A woman has died.’ Then they will make ready to help the relatives of the dead. I think this is better.”
“Suppose,” continued Sedit, “an old man goes up that road alone and comes back young. He is still alone just as before. They will have nothing to be glad about. They will never make friends. They will never have children. They will never have any fun in the world nor anything to do but to grow old and to go up that road and come back again young. It is not good.”
The Brothers Hus had not thought of these things before. Yet the longer they thought, the truer Sedit’s words seemed.
“Let us destroy the road that we have built,” one Brother finally said to the other. “Let us fly back to tell Olelbis these things. Perhaps he may change his plans.”
Then Sedit, the Coyote man, turned and walked away, satisfied that he had spoken truly. And the Brothers Hus prepared to fly back to Olelpanti. They pulled several large stones out from the bottom of the pile and the whole road fell, the stones scattering far and wide.
Then just as they were ready to take flight up to Olelpanti, one of the Brothers called back to Sedit.
“Of course, you know that this means that you too will die— just as every other living thing upon the earth will die.”
“Come back! Come back!” screamed Sedit. “We must talk some more.”
But the two Brothers flew off. Higher and higher they rose, circling above Sedit, until at last he could see them no more.
“What am I to do now? I wish I had not said so much,” thought Sedit. “I wish I had not said anything. I do not want to die. What can I do?”
For some time Sedit stood looking around helplessly—till he saw some sunflower plants growing nearby.
“If everything on earth is going to die,” said Sedit, “then I am not going to remain on earth. I will make wings for myself, and I will fly to Olelpanti where all living things last forever.”
So Sedit picked the leaves off the sunflower plant. He fastened them together in the shape of two wings, and tied the wings to his shoulders. Then he lifted himself as a bird into the air. He flew a short way without any trouble, but the hot noonday sun began to dry the leaves, and one by one they wilted and dropped off. He tried to fly faster in order to reach Olelpanti before the leaves were all gone. But the leaves fell faster than he could fly. Then he felt himself falling. He landed on the pile of rocks which was to have been the road to Olelpanti and was crushed to death.
Olelbis, looking down from Olelpanti, saw all that had happened.
“It is his own fault,” he said to the Brothers Hus, who had just arrived at Olelpanti. “Sedit is the first of all living things to die. He has been killed by his own words. From this time on, all men will die. They will know the gladness of birth. They will know the sorrow of death. And through these two things together men will come to know love.”
One of the oldest answers to the question “What happens when we die?” is that the spirits of our ancestors kind of stick around to help us. Not only some tribes of the Americas, but also many people in China, Vietnam, India and Africa have religious practices designed both to honor the spirits of the dead and to ask for their help and protection. In the US the Hopi people are famous for their kachinas – carved wooden figures that represent spirits, including the spirits of ancestors.
See http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/na/kachina/ for instructions on making an ancestor doll. Note that while we are inspired by this Hopi tradition, what we are making is not a kachina, unless we personally are Hopi and working within that tradition. Before they begin, ask the children to think of an ancestor on whom they would like to model their doll. This could be a literal ancestor, or could be a hero whose spirit they would like to invoke. The dolls do not need to look like particular people—whatever expresses a connection to someone who goes before them or inspires them is totally appropriate.
As an alternative, a family could jointly, or children could individually, set up a shrine to honor their ancestors. In the home a small table or shelf can be fitted with photos or drawings of ancestors, a candle, incense, food offerings, and any items that symbolize what the deceased person loved. If this activity is done away from the home such items can be arranged in a box, but make sure that children understand that candles and incense are not to be burned in a flammable space such as a box.
Do you ever feel like the spirit of someone who has died, such as a grandparent or pet, is with you? Have you ever been to visit the grave or someone you knew who died? Why do you think some people like being able to visit a grave site?
Share dolls or altars and who/what they represent. Close with this poem excerpted from “Breaths” by the Senegalese poet Birago Diop:
Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees,
It is our forefathers breathing.
The dead are not gone forever.
They are in the paling shadows,
And in the darkening shadows.
The dead are not beneath the ground,
They are in the rustling tree,
In the murmuring wood,
In the flowing water,
In the still water,
In the lonely place, in the crowd:
The dead are not dead.
Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breathing of our ancestors.
Week Two – March 11th
What Happens When You Die?
Supplies Needed: paper and crayons/markers/paint or modeling clay
Opening Words and Chalice Lighting
May the light of this flame
Shine in our eyes as truth,
Give warmth to our hands in caring,
And glow in our hearts as love.
Or see week one.
Check-in: See week one.
As we’ll hear in a minute, the sound “Om” has a very important place in the Hindu religion. As our centering today we’re going to chant “Om” together. Don’t worry about how high or low the note you choose is. Instead, see if you can feel the vibration of your chanting in your chest, head, or the rest of your body. You might even be able to feel the sound vibrations from the other people in the room.
Introduction and Story
This month we’re talking about the question “What happens when you die?” Last week we talked about the ancient belief that the spirits of ancestors stay with people, providing help and protection, and even enjoying offerings of food or incense. Another ancient belief about what happens when you die comes from the Hindu religion of India.
According to scholars, the religious tradition that we know as Hinduism has developed across some 5,000 years, with roots stretching back to the Indus Valley civilization, which prospered some 4 - 5,000 years ago. However, no one knows exactly how or when Hinduism started. There are many Hindu creation stories but the one given here helps to explain one of the major Hindu beliefs - reincarnation. Reincarnation is an answer to the question “What happens when you die?” which says that your soul, what the Hindus call “atman,” gets reborn in another body after you die. This Hindu creation story suggests that not only people and animals, but even the whole universe, dies and is reborn again.
This is not the first world, nor is it the first universe. There have been and will be many more worlds and universes than there are drops of water in the holy river Ganges. The universes are made by Lord Brahma the Creator, maintained by Lord Vishnu the Preserver and destroyed by Lord Shiva. Since the universes must be destroyed before they can be recreated, Lord Shiva is called the Destroyer and Re-creator. These three gods are all forms of Supreme One and part of the Supreme One. The Supreme One is behind and beyond all.
After each old universe is destroyed nothing is left but a vast ocean. So the story goes that in the beginning – one of countless beginnings -- there was no heaven, no earth and no space between. A vast dark ocean washed upon the shores of nothingness and licked the edges of night. A giant cobra floated on the waters. Asleep within its endless coils lay the Lord Vishnu. He was watched over by the mighty serpent. Everything was so peaceful and silent that Vishnu slept undisturbed by dreams or motion. But then, in a time outside of time, from the depths a humming sound began to tremble, Om. (Have everyone chant the Om.) It grew and spread, filling the emptiness and throbbing with energy. The night had ended. Vishnu awoke. As the dawn began to break, from Vishnu’s navel, his belly button, grew a magnificent lotus flower. In the middle of the blossom sat Vishnu’s servant, Brahma. He awaited the Lord’s command.
Vishnu spoke to his servant: ‘It is time to begin.’ Brahma bowed. Vishnu commanded: ‘Create the world.’
A wind swept up the waters. Vishnu and the serpent vanished. Brahma remained in the lotus flower, floating and tossing on the sea. He lifted up his arms and calmed the wind and the ocean. Then Brahma split the lotus flower into three. He stretched one part into the heavens. He made another part into the earth. With the third part of the flower he created the skies.
The earth was bare. Brahma set to work. He created grass, flowers, trees and plants of all kinds. To these he gave feeling. Next he created the animals and the insects to live on the land. He made birds to fly in the air and fish to swim in the sea. To all these creatures, he gave the senses of touch and smell. He gave them power to see, hear and move.
The world was soon vibrant with life and the air was filled with the sounds of Brahma’s creation. Everything created, animals and plants, birds and fish, contained atman, the god-self, the soul which is connected to Brahman, the Supreme One who contains Brahma and Vishnu and Shiva.
But this universe, this world and this Lord Brahma, like all those before and all those to come, will be destroyed by Lord Shiva.
How long is the life of a universe? Longer than you can imagine. One day to Lord Brahma is longer than four thousand million of the years that we know. Every night when Lord Brahma sleeps the world is destroyed. Every morning when he awakes it is created again. When the Lord Brahma of this universe has lived a lifetime of such days the universe is completely destroyed by Lord Shiva.
Everything disappears into the Supreme One. For an unimaginable period of time chaos and water alone exist. Then once again Lord Vishnu appears, floating on the vast ocean. From Lord Vishnu comes forth Lord Brahma of the new universe and the cycle continues forever.
This belief in reincarnation, in the cycle of life, strongly influences the lifestyle of many Hindus. It can best be explained by the terms ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’. Dharma may be translated as ‘duty’ or ‘responsibility,’ and for Hindus, part of that duty is to respect and care for all living things. The belief that after death we are reborn in another body, not necessarily human, leads to a great respect for all life and explains why many Hindus are vegetarians. Karma is the result or product of what we do. If we do our duty, then we create good karma. And the karma we create affects how we will reborn in the next life. Good karma, good actions, lead to being reborn to a higher life, more awake to the atman inside. To the Hindu, everything is part of the Supreme One, and thus every living thing is equally important in the great cycle of life.
If you were going to be born again after this life, how would you want to be reborn? As a person? If so, where, and what would you hope your life would be like? Or would you rather be reborn as an animal? Which animal?
Draw (or paint or model in clay) the form in which you would like to be reborn.
Why did you make the choice you made? What do you think a Hindu would say about the sort of a life you would need to live this time around in order to be reborn in the form you hoped for?
Activity 2 – Reincarnation Tag
Designate one person as Brahma, the creator, and one person as Shiva, the destroyer. Shiva tries to tag all players except the one who is Brahma. Anyone who is tagged by Shiva must freeze, as they have been “killed.” However, Brahma can unfreeze them and bring them back to a new life by touching them and telling them what they are reborn as. The “reborn” person must then act like whatever Brahma has named them until time is called, and a new Shiva and Brahma are chosen. You can also try playing this game with one person as Shiva, freezing anyone s/he touches. When everyone is frozen, Shiva becomes Brahma, and taps each person, telling them what to become. After the universe is re-created and everyone is acting out the animal (or kind of person) they have been reincarnated as, the first person to tag Brahma becomes the new Shiva/Brahma.
If you haven’t done so already, have participants share their reincarnation artwork and why they chose the animal/person they did. Close by chanting “Om.”
Week Three—March 18th
What Happens When You Die?
Heaven and Hell/George DeBenneville
Supplies needed: butcher paper, markers or paints, white sheets for angel costumes
Opening Words/Chalice Lighting
See week one
Check-in (see week one)
Sing “There is More Love Somewhere” (#95 in Singing the Living Tradition)
There is more love somewhere,
There is more love somewhere,
I’m gonna keep on, til I find it,
There is more love somewhere.
There is more joy….
There is more peace….
Tune is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MJ9GD3ae_I
One of the answers to the question “What happens when you die?” that you often hear is that some people go to heaven and some people go to hell. The Christian and Muslim religions hold this belief. Many Christians believe that people who have accepted Jesus as their savior will go to heaven, a place of eternal joy, while people who have not will go to hell, and suffer for all time after they die. Muslims, also, generally believe that some people (Muslims who have behaved well) will go to a wonderful heaven, while non-Muslims and Muslims who have behaved badly will suffer in hell.
Of course, in any religion there is a lot of variety in what exactly people believe. Some Christians and Muslims would say that heaven and hell are real, literal places where people feel physical pleasure or pain. Others would say that heaven and hell are more of a spiritual state, where those who have lived good lives can enjoy being close to God, while those who have been bad have to remember and reflect on the suffering caused by their actions.
As we have talked about before, the Universalist part of our Unitarian Universalist name comes from a variation on the Christian beliefs about heaven and hell. Universalists believed that everyone would go to heaven – if not right away, then at least eventually. They said that God has infinite love for all people, and so no one could be permanently separated from God’s love. One early Universalist who you may not have heard of was a man named George de Benneville, who not only came to preach his views that everyone would go to heaven, but who also had his own real-life experience of death (or near-death) and rebirth.
George de Benneville was born in 1703, more than two hundred years ago. He grew up in England, where his father worked in the court of King William. Queen Anne was George’s godmother, and it seems that he led a pretty spoiled life. In fact, de Benneville tells in his autobiography of how he was a wild child, who pretty much thought he was better than everybody else.
But a change started to happen in George’s life when, at twelve years old, he went with a small fleet of boats from England to Africa’s Barbary Coast. He tells the story of watching, as they came to shore, as one of the Black Africans helping to dock the boats was injured badly in the leg. He was annoyed to see the man’s co-workers kiss his wound, crying and sobbing over the man. And he was still more annoyed when they cried out loudly toward the rising sun. George asked, presumably with some considerable grumpiness, what these people thought they were doing. He learned that the Moors (as the Black Africans were called) kissed the wound to express their sympathy for the man’s suffering, and they cried over him so that the salt water of their tears could clean the wound. They cried out to the sun to ask the Creator to have compassion on their hurt friend and heal him.
It seems that, like the Grinch, George de Benneville’s heart grew a few sizes that day. He realized that while he had looked down on these “heathens” who had a different skin color and religion than his, they were actually the ones acting with kindness and caring, as George’s Christian religion taught. George realized that he, in fact, was the “heathen,” the one without a true religion, not them.
George returned to his privileged life in England, but something had changed inside him. Unfortunately, he went from one extreme to another. Instead of feeling like he was better than everyone else, George now felt like he was worse. One day, coming home all sweaty from dancing at a ball, George had a vision of himself burning in hell, and came away from the vision in despair, convinced that he was damned forever. His parents called in ministers to convince him that he was really just fine, and hadn’t done anything all that bad. However, since the ministers believed that some people were, in fact, destined to go to hell, when he wasn’t easily convinced, they figured that he must be right, and just learned at a young age what his destiny was. Needless to say, this wasn’t much help to young George.
However, George had another vision. It started with his familiar sense of guilt and doom, but ended with him being redeemed, saved, by the love of God. So George, who was inclined to take these visions literally, figured that he was destined for heaven, not hell. But he also figured that if he was saved by God’s love, that everyone else was as well. He became as joyful as he had previously been miserable.
So once again his parents called in the ministers, not trusting his joy any more than his misery. And when the ministers learned that he was now convinced that all people were saved by the love of God, and that no one was going to hell, they threw him out of the church. George, however, was not to be stopped by the disapproval of his parents, the church, or anyone else. At 17 years old, George felt called to go to France to preach the good new of salvation for everyone. Although he knew that he was likely to get into trouble with the authorities, he chose to go anyway. And, no surprise, he got into trouble with the authorities for preaching something contrary to the ideas of the king. He was thrown in prison, but as soon as he got out, he went back to preaching his heretical ideas.
And so it goes for the next 18 years – preaching, hiding out, getting sent to prison, getting out again, at least once within minutes of being beheaded for his ideas. Somewhere in this time he became a doctor. Toward the end of his time in Europe he became extremely ill. He writes in his autobiography: “I felt myself die by degrees, and exactly at midnight I was separated from my body, and saw the people occupied in watching it, according to the custom of the country. I had a great desire to be freed from the sight of my body, and immediately I was drawn up as in a cloud, and beheld great wonders where I passed, impossible to be written or expressed.” And he proceeds, for the next 17 pages, to do his best to express what he can of it, including being escorted by “guardians” up to heaven. The underlying message was a confirmation and a further understanding of what he had been preaching, the good news of “the restoration of all the human species without exception,” salvation for everyone. He came back to life, as it were, and was told that 42 hours had passed, 25 of which he had actually lain in the coffin, as they were certain that he had died. He came back to life with a renewed commitment and passion for his preaching.
There isn’t time to share all the details of George de Benneville’s life, but it’s worth noting that not too much after this vision he moved to American, where he got married, had seven children, practiced medicine, and continued to preach. On friendly terms with local Native American tribes, de Benneville borrowed from them many herbal remedies for treating diseases and tried to understand their languages and symbols. Because he believed all ways of expressing the same truth to be equally valid, he could connect with people across cultures and religions. He thought that taking religious truths literally, rather than symbolically, was the cause of many religious conflicts.
De Benneville thought that, if we listened to our inward spirits, we would know that “behind every appearance of diversity there is an interdependent unity of all things.” Godly love, de Benneville preached, finds its way in spite of, or even because of, outward differences. “That love must be based upon mutual respect for the differences in color, language and worship,” he said. So he continued to preach, and to live out his beliefs through his practice of medicine, until he finally died (permanently) at the age of 90.
George de Benneville writes of the vision he has during his near-death experience, in which “guardians,” or angels, guide him through the afterlife and explain to him the mysteries of what happens after death. Imagine that you are one of these guardians in the vision. What would you want to tell George? What would you want to show him?
Participants can enact this conversation (white sheets for costumes would be good), or could paint a mural on butcher paper of what they imagine they would want to show him as guardians. The mural could depict hell, heaven or earthly existence, depending on how they imagine the vision. Or, combine the two activities and use the mural painting as a backdrop for participants enacting angel guardians in a vision.
If you were George having the vision, what would you hope the guardians would tell you? Would you want to hear all people would eventually go to heaven? Would you want to hear that people who had done terrible things would be punished in hell, at least for a while? What would you want to hear that heaven was like?
Do you think that George de Benneville’s visions really told him something true and important, or do you think that he just had a mental illness which made him have hallucinations, and see and hear things that weren’t really there?
These closing words are from George de Benneville himself:
“I sing the majesty, glory, and the memory of God…. I will be swallowed up in the ocean of love without a wish to leave it. For there all things shall be made new and the end shall return to its beginning.”
Week Four—March 25th
What Happens When You Die?
Returning to Nature
Supplies Needed: journals, pens/pencils, colored pencils or crayons if desired.
Opening Words and Chalice Lighting
See week one.
Check-in: See week one.
Stand in a way that is relaxed, but upright and not slouching.
Notice your feet, the way they bear your weight, the way they connect you to the ground.
Imagine that roots are growing from your feet, connecting you deep, deep into the earth.
Feel the way your roots connect you the planet, to the enormous strength and steadiness beneath us.
When you can sense your roots reaching and branching deep in the earth, then imagine those roots are feeding you, drawing nourishment from the earth.
Imagine that nourishment as a kind of light, or energy, flowing up from center of the earth to flood your body with a green or golden light.
Feel that light coming up through your trunk, the sturdy center of your body.
Feel that light, that energy, that nourishment from the earth, moving up and up, through your shoulders and your head.
Imagine that you have branches sprouting from your shoulders and head, reaching out and up, reaching toward the sun.
Imagine your branches filled with leaves, rustling and shimmering, releasing the energy from the earth out into the air.
Now imagine that it is fall, and your leaves are turning colors and beginning to fall from you branches.
Your energy moves inward as your leaves drift away and your branches are bare.
Imagine that it is now full winter. Inside you are quiet, waiting. Nothing moves.
Now spring is coming. Slowly your energy moves out, as you feel buds forming, then opening, all up and down your branches. Your energy rises again, from the earth, through your trunk, out your branches, all the way out to the new green leaves that are starting, once again, to shimmer and rustle around you.
You are coming awake, your energy being reborn.
Imagine that your lower branches reach out and down, so that the energy of the earth runs through your body, and then connects back to the earth.
Feel the energy of the earth move through you, and your energy through the earth.
Feel how you are strong, calm, energized, connected.
When you are ready, thank the earth, take a deep breath, and open your eyes.
We’ve looked at a number of different answers to the question “What happens when you die?” We’ve talked about the idea that the spirits of ancestors stay around to help the people who come after them, we’ve talked about the Hindu idea of reincarnation – the soul being born again into a different body, and we’ve talked about Christian and Muslim idea that the soul goes to heaven or hell after the person dies. Today we’re going to look at one more possibility – the humanist idea that there is no soul which continues on after a person’s body dies. Humanists don’t believe in a God who would send a soul to heaven or hell, and most humanists believe that when life stops, it just stops, that’s it. Except, of course, that there are many ways that people’s lives continue on even after they die. We remember the people we have loved, and even after they are gone we think about the ways they changed our lives. Maybe we make choices that are shaped by someone who is now gone, say, perhaps, to play the guitar like our grandmother did, or to listen carefully and lovingly, like our grandfather. And so in our choices they live on. And it’s also true that science teaches us that “matter can be neither created nor destroyed.” So after we die, all the molecules of our bodies go back into the earth, where they can become part of some other living thing.
Here is a story by Leo Buscaglia that gives a humanist look at what dying might mean:
Take a look around outside, and see how many stages in the life of leaves you can find. Can you find the bud of a leaf that hasn’t yet come out? A brand-new, light-green leaf? A fully-developed, strong leaf? A leaf that is still on the plant, but which has changed color or is looking a little ragged? A dried leaf on the ground? A leaf that has started to return to earth, leaving only the veins behind? On paper with a clipboard or in the journal which you have been using for these sessions, draw the leaves at various life stages.
Is there one particular life stage at which the leaf is prettiest? Why? Is there one particular life stage at which it is most useful? Why?
In your journal, after the leaf drawings, finish the sentence: “I think that after I die….”
Share journal entries.