Last year a woman walking her dog stopped to tell me there’s a ghost in my church named Margaret. She couldn’t give me any details except that Margaret was friendly and had lived in the 19th century. I told her I’d never encountered a ghost, but once our former music director swore a ghost passed through the church when he was practicing the organ late at night. Encouraged by this story, the woman ran home and brought back a photo of Margaret’s ghost in front of the church. She had snapped it during the first snow after 9/11, and it’s the photo pictured with this post. Can you find her? Now, whenever this woman sees me she'll often say, “Don’t forget Margaret!”
I have yet to meet Margaret and doubt I ever will, probably because I’m not entirely convinced she’s there. But I certainly don't discount the possibility. Some people have a gift for detecting and communicating with those who have gone before. A few weeks ago, a good friend who works around the corner came by for a blessing on the anniversary of her father’s death. She speaks with him on occasion, and recently he told her that he’s ready to come back into this world. He wants to be reincarnated as a new person. He went on to say that once this happens, he won’t be able to relate to her in the same way. He won't be able to communicate with her as her father. What’s more, he asked for her forgiveness; he wants her to release him from something before he says “goodbye” and is born again.
I hugged my friend while she wiped away a tear. I understood her feelings of anticipatory grief. Her father’s reincarnation would be like a second death, and she would mourn him all over again. I’ve always been familiar with the saying that if you love someone, you have to let them go. But this situation was a first for me, giving that saying a whole new layer of meaning.
I’m still not sure where I stand on past lives, seeing as the Bible doesn't affirm this idea. Yet I could completely empathize with my friend, and I respect her ability to commune with her father. We believe in the communion of saints after all, past, present and future. We pray for them. And we join with them in worship, especially during the Eucharist. When my daughter was baptized, I felt surrounded by spiritual ancestors - at least a hundred of them. I had the same feeling when I was ordained to the priesthood.
Whatever happens in the afterlife, I trust that our relationship with the faithful departed can only serve to strengthen us in the here and now. And I give thanks for all God’s saints - including Margaret - in the name of the One who died that we might live, and lives that we might never die.