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ROTW #2: From This Life To The Next

The faith tradition I profess and practice (Christian/Episcopal) believes in one God, the Father Almighty; one Lord, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.  We also believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church and one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Finally, "we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come".  It is this communion of faith, first chosen for me by my parents, later adopted by me for myself, which guides and sustains me.  It is also a tradition which celebrates a life after the mortal soul has slipped the grasp of this earthly realm to join all the saints in the heavenly kingdom of life everlasting.
In our burial liturgy of The Episcopal Church, as part of prayers we offer (BCP 480-481), we ask these things:

"Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant, we beseech thee, to thy whole Church in paradise and on earth, thy light and thy peace.  Amen."

"Grant that all who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection may die to sin and rise to newness of life, and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass with him to our joyful resurrection.  Amen."

"Grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that thy Holy Spirit may lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days.  Amen."

"Grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, n. may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in thy heavenly kingdom.  Amen."

"Grant us, with n. and all who have died in the hope of the resurrection, to have our consummation and bliss in thy eternal and everlasting glory, and, with all thy saints, to receive the crown of life which thou dost promise to all who share in the victory of thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen." 

In my Religions of the World (ROTW) class, we're presently learning about Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma ("eternal religion").  One small part of our class discussion the other day was about the concept of Reincarnation.  This is something that intrigues me to no end.  Thinking back, I believe the first I ever heard about reincarnation was from Shirley MacLaine, who claims to have lived many elaborate and exciting lives (before this one now).  

The "transmigration" of the soul into a new body after death does not, in and of itself, seem entirely foreign to me.  And certainly the universal question we all ask ourselves "What happens after we die?" looks of some kind of response.  There likely is no good or valid answer such as the confirmation we each will receive when we do die.  But the idea one could be birthed again and again into countless new and different bodies seems just a tad bit weird to me.  Whether the change from life to life leads to being an Insect, or another type of animal or mammal, or even human, the soul remains the same.  That is hard to grasp.  What I do accept is the hope of ultimately moving toward liberation from the cycle of "suffering" (life, death and rebirth) to finally merge with the Absolute Reality.  That seems to parallel my own hope of moving " from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in thy heavenly kingdom".   

But a question arose in my mind while completing the reading before class.  "Does the belief in Reincarnation suggest there may be a finite number of souls in the world?"  If Yes, how then does the Indian culture practicing Hinduism account for the ever increasing world population?  If you count the whole spectrum of living entities having a soul which may move from a dying body to another living body, wouldn't more human bodies mean there are less animals, less insects, possible more gnats?  I don't think that's a bad thing necessarily, do you?  

Okay, I can't seem to shake this thought, so I'll include it to round out my writing commitment (a class requirement).  There's a scene in the movie "Bull Durham" towards the end which speaks to Reincarnation.  It always makes me laugh.  Susan Sarandon's baseball-smart fan (Annie) mentions to Kevin Costner's recently retired semi-pro baseball player (Crash Davis) she must has lived a gloriously important past life: 

Annie:  '...so you see in a former lifetime I'm sure that I was Alexandria, the Czarette of Russia? What do you think?" 

Crash Davis:  "How come in former lifetimes, everybody was someone famous?"

                            (wait for it)  

Crash Davis:  "How come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmo?"


Anyway, I do find the idea of Reincarnation fascinating.  If you have lived a former life, I'd like to hear about it.  Really!  And if you haven't lived a previous life (yet), here's your chance to lobby for your next assignment.  Who would you be?  What would you do?  I'm just curious.  Any Joe Schmoes out there?