My 80-year-old mother and I got in a big argument about hell on Sunday. She’s absolutely certain that I’m going there, and I’m just as certain that I’m not.
Here’s my reasoning:
- One of the most important laws of physics is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.
- I believe that our essential selves–the core of who we are–are made up of energy.
- This was made clear to me at the funeral of my friend Jill, who died in a car accident at the age of 16. Seeing her body at the funeral was a shock. Though it looked like Jill, her essential “Jillness” was gone, and all that was left was a shell.
- Jill’s death caused my then-fundamentalist Christian faith to crumble. It took me 20 years to rebuild a belief system that made sense to me. But I never stopped believing that Jill’s consciousness had survived the accident.
- I concluded that, because a disembodied consciousness (or “soul”) does not have physical senses, you can’t hurt it by hitting, stabbing, or burning it.
- So, even if a physical hell did exist, how could it hurt something that is pure consciousness?
There are many other reasons why I don’t believe there’s a hell (more of my journey away from fundamentalist Christianity is described here). But as I said, Mom is just as sure that there is a hell, and that it’s my destiny. There’s a little girl inside me who has always yearned for my mother’s approval, and it hurts to know that the only way I will ever receive it is become what I am not. I find it difficult to reconcile Mom’s professions of love for me on the one hand with her insistence that I am going to hell on the other.
A few years ago, Mom got not one, but two ulcers. She attributed them to my sister’s and my refusal to accept Jesus as our lord and savior. She was hospitalized, so I called the hospital’s gift shop and asked them to fill up two helium balloons, then write my name on one of them with a permanent marker, and my sister’s name on the other. I asked them to take the balloons up to Mom’s room, then called Mom and instructed her to go outside and let the balloons go. I wanted her to experience the release of that, but she didn’t do it. She asked my brother to go outside and do it for her, saying she’d watch from the window. I don’t know if he ever did. The whole meaning of the ritual was lost.
I don’t know if it’ll help Mom, but it helped me. When my son and I want to let things go, we find big rocks, write what we want to release on them in permanent marker, and then drive up to Deception Pass. There’s a bridge there whose deck is about 180 feet above the water, and when we drop our rocks over the railing, it takes a loooong time for the them to hit the water. It gives us a satisfying feeling of release.
Our New Year’s Eve tradition (in fact, we just did it today), is to conduct a burning bowl ceremony. We write on slips of tissue paper all the things that we want to release, take turns sharing them with each other, touch the paper to the flame of a candle, and then drop the burning paper into a metal bowl. One of the things I burned up today was “My mother’s expectations.”