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The existence, activity and power of the individual soul/spirit after death

Q&A WIth Lauren Van Ham

Question & Answer


Q: By Michael

What are your thoughts on the existence, activity and power of the individual soul/spirit after death?  Do these individual souls still exist and do they have any power or inclination to relate to us?  If God is indeed Being, Life and Love, do not all human souls melt back into this Absolute after death? In a larger sense, if the individual spirits of the saints remain intact, does not the soul of every human endure eternally as a unique spirit? 

A: By Rev. Lauren Van Ham


Dear Michael,

This is a wonderful series of questions in this season of All Hallow’s Eve, Dia de los Muertos, All Soul’s, and All Saint’s Day.  It is of concern, perhaps, for our egos to know whether or not we remain “ourselves” after death.  Cultural expressions from around the world, and Earth-centered origin stories provide some imagery that I find inviting and helpful. 

In his great work, The Labyrinth of Solitude (1961), Octavio Paz spends an entire chapter explaining what Dia de los Muertos means to his people, and also why the holy-day is so important:

“The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us. Life extended into death, and vice versa. Life, death and resurrection were stages of a cosmic process which repeated itself continuously. Life had no higher function than to flow into death, its opposite and complement; and death, in turn, was not an end in itself: man fed the insatiable hunger of life with his death…  To the ancient Aztecs the essential thing was to assure the continuity of creation; sacrifice did not bring about salvation in another world, but cosmic health; the universe, and not the individual, was given life by the blood and death of human beings.”

In this description, each of us might feel less focused on whether or not we endure as an individual soul and find comfort, instead, in the service our death gives to the collective cosmic process, or “Absolute Love”, as you’ve beautifully described it. 

But you have also asked about a soul’s “inclination to relate to us.”  We know about ancestral encounters.  They’re real.  The lives you and I are living right now are the foundations for the kind of ancestors we will be one day.  Will we be called upon?  I call upon ancestors (biological and chosen) when I am needing the sort of wisdom they wielded during their embodied experience on Earth.  In this way, God as “Being, Life and Love” appears to me in a way I readily recognize and put to use: as the whimsy that was Jim Henson, as the courage that was Harriet Tubman, as the solidarity that was Cesar Chavez, as the loving, resourcefulness that was my paternal grandmother and so on.

Perhaps then, we return to the One Love, and “high-beam” our specific gifts of motivation or comfort when called upon.  As a massive family of ancestors – the souls we remember and the souls we one day will be – we are unique and we are inseparable, serving the continuity of creation.  May it be so.

~ Rev. Lauren Van Ham

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
Rev. Lauren Van Ham, MA was born and raised beneath the big sky of the Midwest, Lauren holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, Naropa University and The Chaplaincy Institute. Following her ordination in 1999, Lauren served as an interfaith chaplain in both healthcare (adolescent psychiatry and palliative care), and corporate settings (organizational development and employee wellness). Lauren’s passion for spirituality, art and Earth’s teachings have supported her specialization in eco-ministry, grief & loss, and sacred activism.  Her essay, “Way of the Eco-Chaplain,” appears in the collection, Ways of the Spirit: Voices of Women; and her work with Green Sangha is featured in Renewal, a documentary celebrating the efforts of religious environmental activists from diverse faith traditions across America. Her ideas can be heard on Vennly, an app that shares perspectives from spiritual and community leaders across different backgrounds and traditions. Currently, Lauren tends her private spiritual direction and eco-chaplaincy consulting practice; and serves as Climate Action Coordinator for the United Religions Initiative (URI), and as guest faculty for several schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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