This is a book of pastoral and theological reflection. It moves from concrete experiences of death through theological reflection on them in order to enter new experiences in a more integrated, faith-filled way. This is a large order. Death continually assaults us with questions that we can never quite answer satisfactorily. And yet we must keep trying to understand and express anew what we believe about death and how we may live that belief.
There are several features of this book that make it different from other valuable works on death. First of all, the focus is on theological questions that arise when we experience death. Most of the current literature on death addresses psychological or social-cultural or moral aspects of death. The theological dimension is often underdeveloped or neglected altogether.
Second, in order to make the questions as realistic as possible, each chapter begins with a practical case. These cases are based on my own pastoral experience, but they are intended to be typical of experiences we all have shared. In any event, the cases are analyzed to raise the theological questions that occupy each chapter.
Third, the theological reflection offered in this book is drawn primarily from process-relational thought. This type of thinking is a relatively new development in Christian theology. Its implications for death and immortality have not been drawn out very extensively; so this book is an attempt to contribute to the extension of relational theology in that direction. At the same time, process-relational thought is couched in a very technical and complex vocabulary. In order to avoid unnecessary difficulties, I have tried to use a relational framework without referring to technical vocabulary explicitly.
The final feature of this work is to reflect theologically on different experiences of death according to a set structure: (1) an experience is presented using a case format; (2) the dominant theological questions raised by the case are identified; (3) the response of a typical theology of death is presented, and a response drawn from relational thought is presented; (4) practical implications are suggested. This four-part format structures each chapter. There are two concluding chapters. One interprets the death of Jesus according to the view developed in the book; the other summarizes and compares the typical and relational theological responses to the questions.
For whom is this book intended? Primarily for anyone who asks the questions this book asks. In another sense, for anyone interested in the answers process theology can offer. But overall, I have written for believers who do not necessarily have formal theological training. It is my hope that this book could be used and discussed by clergy and laity alike. Indeed, my ultimate hope is that clergy and laity would read and discuss it together.
Finally, I have written this book for myself. Like many others, I faced a death experience unprepared. When my father died, shortly after I was ordained a priest, I discovered that I had many more questions than answers and that some very safe assumptions about the goodness and permanence of life had been shattered. I have been trying to respond honestly and adequately to that experience ever since. Relational theology has helped more than other approaches, and so I have wanted to share what I think I have seen and felt. This is it.