Thursday, September 26, 2013

40 Days

Yesterday, the 25th day of September marked the end of the traditional forty day mourning period following the death of Lianga Vice-Mayor Robert "Jun" Lala Jr who passed away last August 17. His family, relatives, supporters and friends commemorated the event with a morning mass at the Sto. NiƱo Parish Church after which everyone proceeded to the Lianga public cemetery to visit and pray at his grave. The Lala family later hosted lunch for all of the mourners and guests at the Lala residence.

Casual research on my part reveals that the significance of the forty day mourning period for deceased individuals especially for Catholics in the Philippines is rooted more in custom and tradition rather than in actual religious or church doctrine. The number 40 is important in biblical numerology and is mentioned often in the Bible. The great flood of Noah, for example, lasted for 40 days and nights. The people of Israel led by Moses wandered for 40 years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt after the Exodus. Jesus was said to have fasted for 40 days after he was baptized by John the Baptist and tradition holds that he ascended to heaven only after 40 days had passed after his resurrection.

Many Filipinos whether they are Catholics or not believe that a person's soul after death wanders the world and may visit the various places that have significance in its previous life.  Only after forty days will it be called to judgement and thereafter be allowed to ascend to heaven, descend to hell or be incarcerated in purgatory. This belief in so called "lingering souls" has been hotly debated in many religious circles and there are many priests and theologians to this day who still cannot agree whether it has any real basis in Christian doctrine.

The idea that souls do linger on earth for forty days after death is especially well accepted among Eastern Orthodox Christians.  Many scholars however believe that this belief is rooted in pre-Christian and pagan Slavic religions and was only later on incorporated into the Orthodox faith. The Slavs are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group from which almost over half of the modern population of Europe can trace their descent.

Personally, I find the idea of being forced to earthbound exile (temporary though it may be) for more than a month after dying, as a nebulous and immaterial spirit, rather a ridiculous if not a distressing concept. If the transition from life to death is indeed, as most religions aver, merely a portal to another kind of life or plane of existence then to believe that a recently released spirit or soul has no choice but to flit here and there aimlessly akin to a lost and orphaned child for such a significant period of time, condemned obviously to merely witness unfolding events yet remain basically impotent and unable to materially change or influence them in any way seems only, in my view, to point an accusing finger to an Almighty Creator who in his omnipotence may also be a playful yet inherently cruel jokester.

Unless, of course, the ultimate purpose of all wandering spirits is merely to constantly haunt and scare the bejesus out of the majority of us, living mortals, who are clearly inveterate and unrepentant sinners, in which case I will start believing in ghosts and goblins.


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  3. Anonymous3:17 PM

    Great article as all your other posts. As regarding wandering spirits, I have myself died three times and come back to life. The first time by drowning at age 7, and revived some 15 minutes or so afterwards, the second by cardiac arrest and revived by some medication about an hour after death, and the third time again by cardiac arrest and revived by God. Yes by God. The first death was wonderful and I was some what upset at being revived, I shall never forget that. The second death I kept close to my body as it was first hauled on a big flat bed semi trailer to a hospital some 20 km away and then seeing all the efforts to revive my body and going back into it. But the third death was the best as I did ascend to heaven and it was just so perfect, but I was told, in English this,"I exist on Earth, so get back down there and find me!" Well, I did not want to go but just as a force had lifted me to heaven, a similar force took me back to Earth and back into my dead body which immediately came back to life as soon as I entered it. I just stood up, the people around me were totally shocked as I said, "I got to go." That was 39 years ago. But I was born in 1954 with full adult awareness. Yes, in a baby's body but with full adult awareness. I can fully recall that birth and my death experience from the previous life too, as well as much of that life, and the life before it. I have been back, this life, to the places I lived and worked, to that life, the one before last and have met up with a friend from that time also and we did share past common experiences that were as vivid as yesterday.