I felt really privileged to have time to amble through the cemetery on one of those picture perfect mornings recently. As I ventured further in, the structure of the cemetery impressed me. Dating from the 1860s, I discovered that early graves and headstones were grouped according to the professed religion of the deceased. Some of the signs read: Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Other Christian, Muslim.
Towards the end of the 20th century the fashion became the lawn cemetery. However I noticed that these were still divided into groupings by religion. More than half of Australians prefer cremation now, and this number is growing, but the lawn cemetery is still the preferred method for a lot of people, though not necessarily divided into religious groupings any more.
Then I got to thinking. It seems that our idea of God, our conception of heaven and earth has dictated how we bury our dead. It was clear in the early days that it was believed that our wealth needed to be displayed so that a manlike god could decide where we fitted into a mortal-like heaven. He also needed to know whether we believed in Him or not, if we were in high church, the chosen church, or none.
I am so pleased that we seem to have a much better understanding of our relation to the divine these days …. that we are all equal(-ly loved) and unfettered by religious differences. That 55% of people now have no fear to cremate speaks volumes about how we view ourselves as not just a material organism, but (for many) as very much a spiritual, eternal being.
Moving on, the Easter period we’re celebrating was on my mind and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead after his crucifixion. This event in history is a beacon of hope that there is really such a thing as life after death … maybe even life instead of death.
It’s commonly accepted now that fear of the future can affect our health, everything from blood pressure, to heart rate, to mental stability. By some estimates, the stress underlying these conditions accounts for more than 60% of all doctor visits. It stands to reason, then, that our expectation about the future – perhaps even our ultimate future – could have a very real impact on what’s happening here and now in terms of both mind and body.
In 2006, The HealthCare Chaplaincy decided to explore this idea further in a study on the link between our thoughts about the hereafter and mental health. They concluded that there’s a “statistically significant inverse relationship” between belief in life after death and the severity of symptoms associated with several types of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and obsession-compulsion.
The evidence that our beliefs about death influence our health is significant.
At Easter the whole community ponders the meaning of life … and if there’s life after death. Many think that death is the end of the story. Or could it possibly be a chance to have another go?
Or might life really be ongoing and the continuation of the life we develop – the attitudes and actions we cultivate – day in and day out? Jesus said in so many different ways, that it was love and forgiveness that brought peace and joy in societies and individuals leading to change for the better, both here and hereafter.
If considering the possibilities of eternal life challenges our common assumptions, the potential payoff of better mental and physical health is profound and enduring.
This piece was published on these APN news sites: Toowoomba Chronicle, Bundaberg News Mail, Coffs Coast Advocate, Fraser Coast Chronicle, Mackay Daily Mercury, Northern Star, Sunshine Coast Daily, Warwick Daily News, Caboolture News, Gatton Star, Noosa News.