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Reincarnation and life after death.


Question & Answer

Q: By LeRoy

Much has been written about Reincarnation and previous lives.  I think a current summary discussion of life after death would be beneficial from a scholar who has studied the authoritative reincarnation stories. 

A: By Toni Anne Reynolds

Dear LeRoy,

Your prompt for such a discussion is fruitful. I’ll begin by plainly stating that my approach to this topic is more experiential than it is academic. Not that I have memory of experiencing death and rebirth, but that my spiritual journey has yielded something of an inner-standing (as opposed to understanding) about reincarnation that my studies have failed to. Of course, I recognize the importance of reading books and studying. However, the substance of my response here is informed by stories, prayers, rituals, and teachers who didn’t and don’t rely on the Western method of learning by book and word in order to access such vital information.

Unfortunately, I’m not a spiritual master so I don’t have a simple or clear way to respond to you. What I do have are a series of bodily memories that forced me to consider the idea that I had been alive before. These moments have been better teachers than any of the theories I have read about reincarnation.

The first experience occurred when I was a sophomore in college. I was slowly processing my recent split from a conservative and fundamentalist church I had belonged to for all of middle school and high school. The core of my faith was still being shaken as I grieved and read more books about liberation theology and the historical Jesus; and, just simply observed the way the Christian faith assumed and employed a destructive power in the world beyond my adolescent reality. I hadn’t teased out or even fully understood what my faith assumptions were.  All I knew at the time of this first bodily awakening was that hell had to be a lie. I assumed that the god that allowed for a hell to exist was a god created by people who preferred fear and control. I assumed that when we leave our bodies we just “go back”, and stay there, wherever and whatever there is. As I said, I didn’t have a coherent statement to make about anything I believed.

So, one day I was in a course called The Gospels, where we were studying one of Jesus’s many famous lines: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The professor was teaching us about the role of grief, the power of lament, and the responsibility of professional wailers in many communities around the world, both past and present. She said that wailers were necessary for ushering the community into lament and sorrow, that they were responsible for helping the community get it all out so that nothing would be left repressed and eventually toxic to the functioning of the community. Before she finished the third sentence of this mini lecture my heart began to pound heavily and something opened up inside me. Tears came to my eyes and I felt like she was proceeding to describe my vocation. Like she was reminding me of something I had forgotten, something crucial to my survival and fundamental for my journey forward in life. Something about what she was saying, in the context that she was describing it, felt like me. I didn’t know I believed in the possibility of reincarnation except now I had this strange and new kind of memory that was forcing me to admit that I had lived in a body some time before. With no vocabulary or structure to better understand this experience I simply noted it in a journal and kept it logged away for many many years.

Then, more recently, I experienced the most profound memory awakening event to date. It happened while I was participating in a Holotropic Breathwork workshop facilitated by a seminary professor just a few years ago.

This experience for me was something like dancing on my DNA. I don’t know how else to describe it. That meditative session with my classmates left me feeling like my existence was and truly is “on purpose”. That whatever I’m up to on this planet has everything to do with what I have done in other bodies and what I hope to do in the one I am presently gifted with. In that feeling, and with the inner-ground the session opened up for me to stand on, I have met a small few teachers who have helped me explore this topic more deeply. Beyond the Christian framework, past the world of black and white ink, and into the network of memory that has been carefully woven into the only home I truly have – my body.

This is a thin and horribly inadequate way to say that I feel sure that I have lived on this planet before. I feel sure that some of my dearest friends have worked with me in previous iterations, succeeding and struggling to do our best as humans on a truly magnificent planet. The details about the light that guides us, or what happens after we dissolve into it, that stuff I don’t know. It has seemed more important for me to focus on integrating the knowledge my body has before I am asked to leave it. So, maybe in a few more years I can offer something more about that side of this equation.

Honestly, LeRoy, I just don’t trust all of the books and theories about this stuff. But I do trust my body. I worry this response may be something of a letdown to you and to others who share your curiosity; that I am offering more of an encouragement to dive into the body instead of, or as much as, you would dive into the mind. Giving more field to wander in than destination at which to rest. But, my hope is, before any potential disappointment sinks in, you engage other modalities of exploring the truth about the cycle of life and the spirit. Beyond the Christian framework, past the world of black and white ink, and into the network of memory that has been carefully and purposely woven into the only home you truly have-your body.

Happy exploring,

~ Toni Anne Reynolds

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Minister Toni Anne Reynolds is committed to singing flesh onto the bones of the Christian tradition by incorporating recently found texts of the ancient world into liturgy, sermons, and poetry. Toni’s Christianity forms a holy trinity with the psychological medicine of Tibetan Buddhism and the eternal Life found in Yoruba traditions. Balanced in an eclectic faith and focused in theology, Toni’s ministry offers a unique perspective on life, theology, and spirituality.

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