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Brian Smith deals with pain left by the loss of a friend. He looks at how closely the loss of a person to a community resembles wounds to the body. Brian notices how the slow signs of healing on a community level indicate that the community itself is alive and has a structural integrity. -Editor

About seven weeks ago I fell while I was running in the forest. I broke open the skin on my knee in a long gash. The cut was impressively deep and spilling a good amount of blood. It was the type which a doctor would immediately decide needed stitches. I chose not to go through the hassle of a doctor partly because I like cool scars and also because I was confident that my body could heal on its own, even if it took a little longer. I like watching cuts heal.

Healing is the opposite of decay. Dead things decay. Alive things heal. Watching a thing repair itself is an inspiring reminder of the mystery of life. Why does the 155 pounds of material that I call my body hold together as a unit and repair itself rather than decay?

With the recent passing of my friend I have watched a fresh, deep cut in my community spill blood.

I have seen some initial attempts at bandages and stitches in the form of worship services and friends stopping work in order to be with each other. People have begun to clean and sterilize the wound with words, explanations, hopes, and efforts to understand.

More tangibly than ever before, I felt the reality that a community of people has a life and a body. A group of people truly make a person together. Just as heaven as a whole reflects a single person and as each society within it also constitute a person (Heaven and Hell 59, 68). The proof? In addition to all the actions people have taken, I believe I have begun to see early signs of the healing. This unexplainable miracle of healing at a community level indicates that the community is alive, it has some kind of integrity as a unit.

In my own body I can feel the tearing damage done by my friend's departure. I feel a hole in my chest that throbs. I witness similar signs of the torn fabric throughout the community. There is a part that is missing. Each person plays a role. The body depends on each of the services individual parts play for the whole (Heaven and Hell 64). Up to this point in my life I wasn't aware of how actual and substantial the bonds are between people. My knee hurt because I was breaking the physical integrity of the bonded fabric of my skin. My heart aches because its integrity and wholeness was broken.

Skin knows it is supposed to be a whole somehow. That's why it will heal rather than decay when it is broken.

It is not just an analogy or an illustration to say that we have lost a part of our body in this community. We are connected to each other. The spiritual body of human connection is perhaps more real that the physical structure of our bodies. There is some miraculous sense of being a unit or a whole which reels in pain when it is torn.

And, it will also heal. That is our hope. And I have seen the beginning signs. The wound will start to scab over only to be broken open and bleed many more times before the skin finally closes up.

I learned something from the wound to my knee (which is now fully closed). It still hurts. The scar tissue itself no longer has any feeling but the build up of tissue puts painful pressure on the surrounding area whenever I try to kneel. Presumably, even this pain will fade. But, the visual sign will remain, and the skin will never regain feeling and never be as supple as it was before.

I'm not ready yet to speak about how thorough the healing may be in the life to come. People like Johnny Cash sing to us about how "the circle won't be broken, by and by Lord, by and by." I long for this sense of a re-integrated circle, full of life and including all its human parts. Perhaps this will be given by and by, but for now there are scars which mark the areas of healing.

Further Reading

The angelic state is such that everyone communicates his own bliss and happiness to others. For in the other life there is a most exquisite communication and perception of all the affections and thoughts, so that each person communicates his joy to all, and all to each, so that each one is as it were the center of all. This is the heavenly form. And therefore the more there are who constitute the Lord's kingdom, the greater is the happiness, for it increases in proportion to the numbers, and this is why heavenly happiness is unutterable. There is this communication of all with each and of each with all when everyone loves others more than himself. (Arcana Coelestia 549)

The LORD builds up Jerusalem; He gathers together the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. The LORD lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked down to the ground. (Psalm 147.2-6)

The Ummah is like one body, when any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels the pain. (The Prophet Muhammad)

Brian Smith

Brian continues to thrive in his marriage to Janine. He loves his growing son Kai. He tries to minister in Toronto, Canada where they live. He is trained and employed to study sacred scripture with the purpose of empowering people in their desire to live well. Brian enjoys reading and writing and for the moment, mixed martial arts.

Reader Comments (8)

Wonderfully articulated and comforting essay Brian. Good work as always.

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterReade M.

Thanks for this Brian. You beautifully weave together some thoughts, feelings, and observations that have been floating around in my mind and heart this past week into a clear, compelling, and comforting picture of grief and healing.

August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy L.

I really like that metaphor Brian. It resonates with my experience. What I don't understand is how the two worlds interact. I feel the tear that you are speaking about, Jason is my friend and is no longer here, but this world is intimately connected to the other world and if we believe that our essential personhood is eternal and connected, then why am I experiencing the pain and suffering of having lost a good friend? Are you positing that the Lord and the other world that is an expression of his humanity is the life force that heals our physical communal body when it is ripped apart? I like that image and I think it is true, but I don't understand why we feel the loss so acutely when Jason is alive in the other world. Is it the pain of whatever he was experiencing that caused him to take his own life, a life that he shares with all of us, that we are now feeling? Does he receive the same healing that we are all hoping and actively trying to receive by processing this event together? I guess I don't expect you to have answers to all of these thoughts, I am just taking a little walk through the woods of my own mind trying to make sense out of it all. If you do have thoughts, I would love to hear them.

August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlanna R.

Cool man.

August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurtis C

I hear Alanna asking: "If the world of spirit is real, and our human relationships last for eternity, why does it feel like tearing and loss when someone leaves the physical world?"

I really don't know.

I suspect that in the earliest times of the human race departure from the physical world was much less of a separation and cause of pain than it is today. Maybe we still see glimmers of this in today's traditional cultures. The attention placed on deceased ancestors in African traditions keeps the memories and significance of these people very alive. And in fact, there are centuries worth of traditions involving active communication with the deceased. Generally though, I think the barriers are much thicker these days. Probably for our own protection or by our own choices to live in a very materially centered world view?

I think this would ease the parting.

The other thought that comes up for me is the idea of an eternal hell. If one supposes that everything and everyone is brought into a perfect, whole, heavenly pattern then the experience of loss and real separation would not make much sense. However, if one supposes that there is an opportunity for people to keep choosing (to eternity) to disconnect, to hate and to break the perfect whole then separation takes on a fuller, and sadder meaning.

I still think hell is kept in some kind of orderly, pattern, which, next to heaven may even appear as a whole. In other words, hell and evil may offer useful contrast and shading on the canvass of eternity. Somehow within a broad context of order, but also divided and separated in a way that makes the angels grieve.

This is not to say that our sadness over the loss of a friend indicates either that we think they are in hell or even that they are in hell. We hope and trust that people, like Jason, are working their way toward heaven. Instead, this explanation makes the presence and reality of hell responsible for all the disconnect, feelings of loss, feeling of a breaking or ruining of the whole.

And perhaps we can see this in Jason's life. Through and after his life I am happy to keep loving him because I am confident that he is a good man, working toward the pattern and order of heaven. But in this life (and after) he had ailments which made him distant, broken up, difficult to be in relationship with. We all have these things which block and retard our ability to truely be present and experience each other's presence and love.

Those are my thoughts, loosely pulled from ideas in the Heavenly Doctrines, I welcome any further reflections on this question.


August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Smith

Thanks for your coherent thoughts Brian. One further thought that I have had was about how people really do provide and act as an anchor for the spiritual world. I think we grieve because we really did lose what Jason was holding here with his presence. Each of us are changing as a result of this experience and hopefully coming to embody things that he lived in his life more fully, so I don't believe we are damned to be without any connection to what he was or stood for, but I do think we are suffering loss. This is a fancy way of saying something so obvious, but it felt important to go through the motions.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlanna Rose

Beautifully put, Alanna.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy L

If we do our part (and even if we don't) the Lord is always working to heal us. We set the bone, clean the wound, take the stitches and God does the rest. This is true on the physical plain and on the spiritual plain. We must participate. Even though you didn't get stitches, I'm sure you cleaned the wound. That we must participate in coming up from grief is well documented.Time by itself does not heal.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonnette
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