Lately I’ve spoken to several Christians who believe in reincarnation. Is this belief compatible with Episcopal theology? I was raised a Baptist and feel uncomfortable with that idea. I look forward to your response.
What a California question?!! Reincarnation is a central tenant in many religions of the East, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Reincarnation cannot be justified by biblical teaching, nor is it found in classic Christian theology.
Things become a little muddled, however, because those who believe in reincarnation and we Christians both feel that the human soul is eternal and that it contains a spark of the divine. Reincarnation, however, aims for perfection by recycling the soul through several lives, attempting and hoping that each life will move it closer to perfection, and either unification with God or becoming Godlike, or even divine.
The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation asserts that God made the sacrifice to become fully human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. After living a fully human life from birth to death, Jesus is resurrected and taken back into the godhead. Thus our humanity is taken into the heart of God. This Grace bridges the gap between the creature and the Creator. The Christian life is not a journey toward perfection but a journey into the grace of God.
Anecdotally, it totally appears that the spirit/souls of those who have gone before constitute a great swarm of inspiration in our cosmos. My wife, Judi, was at a plein-air watercolor retreat in Hesperus, Colorado. The retreat location was filled with flowers, but my wife was dealing with a very ugly situation at her workplace at the time. Her paintings were not pretty. They were dark. While there, she began to paint otherworldly dimensions into her landscapes. The leader of the retreat was puzzled for a moment, and then exclaimed, "You are channeling Charles Burchfield.” Charles Burchfield (1893–1967) was an American visionary artist and painter. Neither my wife, who was an art student in college, nor I had ever heard of Burchfield. Subsequently we read about him and visited an exhibit of his work at UCLA. Sure enough there was a strong thread between my wife’s work and his. This, however, was not reincarnation. This was a mysterious and mystical inspiration.
Hope this helps,
Dear Old Dad (DOD)
Do you have a burning question about church, Episcopal/Anglican traditions, theology, and so on? In our weekly feature "Ask Dear Old Dad," after the classic "Dear Abby" format, the Rev. Reese Riley, COS Senior Adjunct Clergy, will tackle your questions with his signature wisdom and charm. And by the way, there are no dumb questions! You may request to be anonymous, or you may have your name published. Your questions will inspire the conversation! Submit your question to Hannah at HannahR@COSepiscopal.org