Is death your greatest fear?

Not to be morbid, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about death. (Yes, it’s very hot and dry right now in central Texas, but I’m not finding skeletal remains in the front yard – yet – so my ruminations about death cannot be connected to the weather.)
I’m reading a book, and it asks the question: “What is your greatest fear?” Not surprisingly, death ranks as the second greatest fear for most people; speaking in public snares the Number One spot on the list, according to the author.
(Not for me – I love speaking in public. From the first time I gave a humorous reading at a ladies’ luncheon when I was in high school, I’ve been addicted to making people laugh; getting chuckles from an audience gives me a rush of power that is second only to successfully parking parallel.)

Fascination with life after death

When I try to pin down my greatest fear, though, it’s not death, either. Call me a fatalist, but I have always believed that when my number is up…well, it’s up. I’ve never doubted that I’m going to heaven to be with God, and I know it’s going to be wonder-full. So why would I fear death?

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, I’m not alone. In their study, 72% of Americans believe in an afterlife, and that number includes ‘non-religious’ respondents, among whom 37% say they believe in the existence of heaven, a place where they are rewarded for living a good life. Interest in an afterlife has also fueled phenomenal sales for books and memoirs about near-death or after-death experiences and led to popular TV series and scientific research projects. My own conversations with my sons about my Christian faith and the intersections of science with the supernatural/spiritual was the seed that eventually resulted in my thriller Heaven’s Gate (which, by the way, has now been nominated for a 2017 Christy Award in the suspense category! Have you read it yet?).

Where are all the do-gooders hiding?

So, here’s my question: Given all the attention that heaven receives in our culture and a wide-spread profession of believing in it, why aren’t more people making a concerted effort to get there? In other words, if you believe heaven is a reward for doing good, why aren’t more people actively seeking to do good?

I think the answer, in part, is because ‘doing good’ doesn’t make sensational headlines. ‘Doing good’ is often a quiet, secret thing. Contributing to a community in positive ways is such a way-of-life for so many people, that they don’t consider it anything special, when in fact, it really is. I know that when I consciously look for good, I see it happening everywhere, so, whether or not the media reports it or our culture celebrates it, I think there are tons of people doing good because they believe in heaven. Like I do. And when I let the reality of heaven influence my daily behavior, I act differently. I work at being more generous, kinder, more grateful.

So why would I fear death? In my mind, in my heart, I believe that death will be the door to the Kingdom made perfect that I will inhabit forever. My audiences will always laugh. My parallel parking will be effortless. What’s not to like?

Do you believe, every day, in heaven?

 

 

 

Awe-full at the Houston Space Center

Not something you see every day in the parking lot: a 747 with a space shuttle on its back. Talk about a traffic-stopper.

Next stop: Mars!

My husband and I visited the Space Center in Houston this week, and it renewed my wonder and respect for everything NASA has accomplished since its inception. To be able to touch a rock that came from the moon, and appreciate even half of what that represents in human effort, imagination, and sheer guts, is an awe-full experience! One of the exhibits we especially liked modeled the surface of Mars and reviewed NASA’s projects that are aimed at putting humans on the planet. After seeing the exhibit, it’s clear that the movie The Martian borrowed extensively from accurate information collected by NASA scientists. The idea that I might live to see a person on Mars is mind-blowing…and reinforces everything I’ve ever believed about the incredible power of imagination to create new realities.

Brave hearts

Touring the Space Center in Houston also reminded me of the intrepid nature of humankind. When you see a Mercury capsule up-close, how can you NOT marvel at the risk astronauts take when they launch into space? My husband, stunned by the fragility of the Mercury capsule on display, said that early space travel was akin to sending someone into space in a tin can. What were we thinking?! When you examine the capsule, it’s terrifyingly evident that mere inches separated a person from the enormity of outer space. Not to mention those first astronauts who walked out of their capsules into the infinite darkness…just trying to think of that experience rocks me to the core! How much trust would that require in the humans who enabled you to do it? How much faith in yourself, and in God? Another movie I’ve watched comes to mind: Gravity. In that film, I caught a glimpse of what it might mean to experience total aloneness, floating in space, with only the bare resources of mind, body, and spirit at hand. The concept still sends shivers down my spine.

Touching the stars…or the moon, at least

In a similar way, I went speechless when I saw the Apollo module on display. It had actually traveled in space, to the moon and back, its skin beaten by cosmic radiation and the raw forces of nature. As a life-long astronomy fan, I’ve always been fascinated by the stars, the limitless frontiers of the universe, so to stand next to something that had physically entered those reaches of space was a humbling moment for me. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist the exhibit’s invitation to touch a tiny sliver of rock from the moon – it, too, had been somewhere I could only imagine. In a way, it felt like touching a dream, but one that has become very real. I have no intention of ever walking on the moon or Mars, but knowing that it has been – and will be – done, expands my own horizons, as well as the world’s.

Because I spend a lot of time outdoors, enjoying and appreciating the natural world, I don’t often think of human accomplishment as something of awe. NASA’s Space Center changed that for me. When I look at the star-studded skies tonight, I’ll be giving thanks not only to God for a magnificent creation, but for the amazing character of good women and men who have led us to explore and claim that creation more deeply.