And what the dead had no speech for, when living
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond with the language of the living. —T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
Last night at dinner we prayed for those who died in the tornadoes here in the South and for their families and loved ones.
Which is when our son asked one of those burning Reformation-era questions: “Can you pray for dead people?”
“I think so,” I said, not blinking—with all deference to the sixteenth-century church reformer, Martin Luther, whose camp I’m in on most things and who was probably turning over in his grave.
“I think so, too,” my husband said between bites of leftover meatloaf.
Sure, Jesus had once issued that weird directive about letting the dead take care of the dead. But that was in the context of a summons to follow Him, when following Him might conflict with familial obligations to care for the dead. (You can check out my post on this weird Jesus saying.) Sitting-around-the-dinner-table prayer, by contrast, didn’t preclude praying for those who have died, I reasoned. Besides, if there really is life beyond the grave, then the state of those who have gone before us matters, especially to their loved ones, not to mention God. And, if Love is stronger than death, then Love doesn’t respect even the seemingly permanent boundaries placed upon Her by death. Come to think of it, as a hospice chaplain I often hear grieving relatives share how they on occasion hear things or catch messages sent from their loved ones even after their loved ones’ death.
So there we were, praying for the dead over our cauliflower cheese and meatloaf, and I, secretly grateful for kids who ask the questions we often don’t think to ask and to which our own answers may surprise us.