One cherished gift of aging to me is that of perspective. I now more easily understand from where others are coming, and I’m much less frightened or offended by what they believe, or say. That new tool, that finds its strength in my own life experiences, makes it easier for me to be available to people who see and name things differently than I.
Perspective enables us to see things in their context, and in relation to all other things. I imagine myself floating high above today’s global reality, and understanding why people think and feel the way they do. If I ascend even higher, time disappears, and the historical, cultural context of beliefs and behaviors becomes apparent, and discernible. This perspective has enabled me to be less judgmental, including my own childhood faith, Roman Catholicism. Perspective also allows me to understand my fascination with the soul, and with the afterlife.
A very good friend, who is dying, worries that I have swallowed the Kool-Aid because I again use religious words to describe my current core beliefs. For instance, when I refer to myself as an “angel,” this former priest is concerned that the Catholic Church still has its hooks into me. Similarly, an old Church, newly-widowed, Irish Catholic friend from Boston, worries that I’ve wandered way too far from the Church’s influence.
I’m humbled to have both of their loving concerns. We worry about people for whom we care. So, thank you, but, I’m good.
There are a lot of terms being used today that would confuse and concern my parents were they still alive, and send some of the nuns I had in grade school into dangerous heart palpitations. “New Thought” teachers write and talk about what “vibration” we’re in, and can depart from, at any given moment. What it means is that our consciousness continuously steps into, and out of, fields of energy throughout the day and night. The lowest vibration represents our lowest level of consciousness, our worst selves in which we gossip, argue, plot revenge, and otherwise behave as insecure children. Our highest vibration is when we live in loving kindness. It’s our very best selves. We can choose to be present to our lowest and highest vibrations, and all those in between, with split-second decisions.
“People of the Light” is another popular phrase, referring to those souls who are operating at the upper realm of vibrations.
We hear of “sacred time and space” versus the “profane.” The words “awakened” and “aware” are mainstays of New Thought followers. There are initials, too. “NDE” stands for “Near Death Experience.” Stories of the afterlife from people who have survived NDEs are what propels a lot of this vocabulary. The accounts are nearly identical, with promises and experiences of immediate joy and comfort.
I embrace these words because they more accurately reflect how I experience my life among others. They are excellent words for my new perspective. But, other more traditional words and behaviors of old-time religion no longer scare or offend me. Like many others of my age, who felt alienated and judged by traditional faith, I eventually recoiled from all the words used to judge and condemn me, words such as “God,” “Jesus,” “prayer,” and “redemption.” Because of my new spiritual perspective, I’m no longer negatively impacted if you feel that in your afterlife you get to live on your own planet, or if the founder of your faith is believed to have ascended into the sky on a chariot of fire. As long as your expressed beliefs don’t impact my sense of belonging and safety as a gay man, then we can talk, and perhaps be spiritual friends.
Currently, I feel drawn to working with the dying, helping them transition into their new life without fear. To be a successful spiritual guide, I’d need to be open, kind, loving, and at peace. Other gifts of aging that I’ve experienced are contentment, acceptance, and flexibility. They help me in this regard too.
If being a Conservative Christian, Jew, or Muslim gives your life meaning, I’m able to use your words and your rituals to help you approach your death in joy. If you think that life ends in death, I’d respect your feelings, and would only offer a different perspective if you were agitated in fear, and interested in hearing what brings me serenity.
All of the stories being told by all of the world’s religions are based on the same beliefs. Everyone who believes there is an Originator of life has tried to come up with words that approximate their theories. Likewise, they come up with rituals to help them feel their communication with the divine is sacred. It’s the greatest of human tragedies that we slaughter each other over the made-up stories we have “faith” to be true. And it’s the height of ungracious behavior, the basement in vibrations, if we desecrate icons and rituals sacred to the conquered.
Since early childhood, I’ve always been the one who would much rather have talked about God than about American history, art, the economy, or sports. So, my reflections on life after death aren’t propelled by my senior years. They are, however, more popular with friends today because it’s the natural time for my generation to be thinking more about what might be next.
It’s irrelevant whether or not you believe in God and an afterlife. They either exist or they don’t. If you don’t believe, and there is a life review, you won’t be punished for your beliefs. You’ll just be humiliated, or not, by your behaviors as a human.
What I believe is that we souls are all divine beings having a human experience, the purpose of which is to grow continuously as manifestations of love, which includes living with kindness, and without judgment, toward all other life forces. People who believe similarly are often now referred to as People of Light. I love the image of angels, as divine messengers, so it feels right to me to think of us all as angels.
Having such insights is thought of as awareness. Other words to describe such thinking are, “illumination,” “inspiration,” and “enlightenment.” You can go to your grave giving not a hoot about any of this, and you’re no less a divine being.
Ray and I light candles and incense daily; we listen to chants, and have a yard full of wind chimes, Buddha’s, and fountains. It’s our attempt, reflecting our Catholic background and our Eastern religious study, to live as if in a monastery or other sanctified ground. It makes us feel good. You can have pink flamingos in your yard, and have it be no less sacred.
What matters now, and at the end of life, I believe, is how you behave towards all others. If you are kind, thoughtful, generous, and loving; if your words and actions manifest good virtue, compassion, and commitment to equality, you are a saint, whether you believe in a Creator or not. It’s that simple.
There’s no Kool-Aid to drink. There are no worries about leaving the faith of your childhood. You simply are beloved offspring of Love, and you will never die.
Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.