Thursday, May 31, 2012

I'll Go Tell Elizabeth

The Visitation, James J. Tissot
For the Feast of th Visitation here is a song by Ken Medema. You can listen to it here.

So many things are happening to me that
   I don't understand –
Visions and angels and a baby named Jesus –
   It’s not what I planned;
The plans I have made are like birds’ nests
   blown down in the wind and the rain;
And I’m scattered like straw, and I can’t quite
   tell where to find saneness again.

So, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
For she’ll understand.
I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
She’ll hold my hand – she’ll understand.

“Go talk to Joseph.” Well I’ve talked to Joseph
   and Joseph’s a man;
So many things that a woman can know that
   a man never can.
Joseph is practical and Joseph is worried with
   things of his own.
And talking to Joseph is sometimes no better
   than being alone – being alone.

So, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
‘Cause she’ll understand.
Yes, I’ll go tell Elizabeth,
She’ll hold my hand – she’ll understand.

Sometimes I wish I could wake up and discover it
   all was a dream;
I ought to be shouting for joy, yet I’m coming
   apart at the seams.
Mostly I’m quiet – I keep things inside me –
   It’s how I get by.
When there’s too much to handle, and I need someone
   near me to share a good cry – share a good cry.

So many things are happening to me that
   she’ll understand.
Now that she’s pregnant her life isn’t going
   exactly as planned.
The plans we both made are like birds’ nests
   blown down in the wind and the rain.
And we’re scattered like straw, and we can’t quite
   tell where to find saneness again – saneness again.

So, I’m coming Elizabeth.
‘Cause I’ll understand.
I’m coming Elizabeth.
I’ll hold your hand – I’ll understand.
Yes, I’m coming Elizabeth.
For I’ll understand.
I’m coming Elizabeth – I’ll hold your hand –
I’ll understand.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Traitor Within

One of the startsi said to his disciple, 'Watch, lest you harbour a traitor in yourself.' 'Who is the traitor?' asked the disciple. 'Self-gratification,' answered the staretz. And this is indeed so. Self-gratification is the cause of all evils. If you examine all the bad things that you have done, you will see that in each case they originated from pandering yourself.
Theophan the Recluse, The Art of Prayer, an Orthodox Anthology

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vindictive Judge or Anodyne Version of Ourselves?

‎"Just in passing let me wonder why anyone is surprised that church attendance is in decline in America. If half the church is presenting a faith that makes God out to be a vindictive judge, and the other half is making God out to be an anodyne version of themselves, it’s actually amazing anyone goes to church at all." — Sam Wells

I have no taste for the former. But, I worry that we in the Episcopal Church often tend toward the latter. The God of Christianity should not be reduced to a vindictive judge. But, neither is that God a Big American Liberal in the Sky.


Idolatry of a Certain Sort?

Radical Centrist Manifesto II

Thursday, May 17, 2012

CWOB: More Resources

One of the topics of consideration at the Episcopal Church's General Convention this summer has to do with whether or not we should maintain the ancient discipline of expecting baptism before participation in the Eucharist.

A little over two years ago, I wrote a series of posts attempting to explain why we should maintain that ancient discipline:
Baptized into Eucharist

A while back I offered some resources from others who I think have made a cogent defence of the classic discipline:
Communion Without Baptism? Some Resources

Since so much of the case for change is anecdotal, I also offered some anecdotes of my own:
Against Communion Without Baptism: Some Anecdotes

Here are some more resources on the topic:

Robert Hendrickson:
On Many and More Controversies: Of Justice, LGBT Christians, Female Priests, and Communion Regardless of Baptism

Jesse Zink:
Beyond “open communion”

Jared Cramer:
A Slight Rant on Current Arguments for CROB

The Theology Committee of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church prepared this:

Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations:
Admissionto the Eucharist of the Non-Baptised (Begins on p. 51)

Some of these and others can be found at a site maintained by Christ Church, New Haven:
Baptism and Communion: resources for conversation

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whose Box?

Do you ever suspect that when some people insist that you should "think outside the box" what they really mean is that they want you to start thinking inside their box?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anselm: "Jesus, as a mother . . ."

Anselm of Canterbury (1033 - 1109):

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you: you are gentle with us as a mother with her children; Often you weep over our sins and our pride: tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement. You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds: in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us. Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life: by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy. Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness: through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives life to the dead: your touch makes sinners righteous. Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us: in your love and tenderness remake us. In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness: for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us. (Preface to the Proslogion)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Praying with Julian’s Hazelnut

I invite you to try this prayer experiment based on Julian of Norwich's hazelnut vision:

  • Get a 'hazelnut'. This can be a real hazelnut or anything similar in size and roundness, e.g., a marble, a small stone, a balled-up half sheet of paper, etc.

  • Intentionally set aside a period of time - 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or more if you can. And a place where you can be alone and quiet. If you have a timer set it for the amount of time you have set aside so you won't be watching the clock.

  • Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, let yourself relax. Rest your hands open on your lap holding the hazelnut.

  • Breath in slowly through your nose and out though your mouth. Pay attention to the breath.

  • Imagine the small thing in your hands as representing all that it is created. Imagine it representing your own life. Or the life of someone else on your heart. Give thanks to God for making it, for loving it, and for keeping it.

  • Begin repeating 'made, loved, kept' quietly or silently forming the words with your mouth.

  • When other thoughts arise, do not fight them. Rather, gently let go of them, turn your heart back towards God and the small thing and resume repeating, 'made, loved, kept'.
  • At the end of the prayer period, return your attention to your breath and remain in silence with eyes closed for a while.

  • End by again giving thanks to God for making it all, for loving it all, and for keeping it all.

  • If you like, carry your hazelnut in your pocket or place it where you will see it throughout the day as a token of remembrance.

I have found that doing this daily can serve to settle my heart into the heart of God where my own life, the lives around me, and the larger world gain a different perspective. I begin to share some of the hope and joy that was characteristic of Julian of Norwich.

That is not to say that it always feels that way or that the prayer automatically engenders warm and pleasant feelings. Julian knew better:

Our Lord is most glad and joyful because of our prayer; and he expects it, and he wants to have it, for with his grace it makes us like to himself in condition as we are in nature, and such is his blessed will. For he says: Pray wholeheartedly, though it seems to you that this has no savour to you; still it is profitable enough, though you may not feel that. Pray wholeheartedly, though you may feel nothing, though you may see nothing, yes, though you think that you could not, for in dryness and ib barrenness, in sickness and in weakness, then is your prayer most pleasing to me, though you think it almost tasteless to you. And so is all you living prayer in my sight. (14th Revelation, p. 249)

Still, Julian was undaunted and encourages us to persevere because:

Prayer unites the soul to God, for though the soul may always be like God in nature and in substance restored by grace, it is often unlike him in condition, through sin on our part. Then prayer is a witness that the soul wills as God wills, and it eases the conscience and fits us for grace. And so he teaches us to pray and to have firm trust that we shall have it; for he beholds us in love, and wants to make us partners in his good will and work. (14th Revelation, p. 253)


Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and of these two things comes a third, and that is a marvelous delight in God, which is love. (14th Revelation, p. 256)
The Julian quotes are from Julian of Norwich: Showings (Classics of Western Spirituality).

Back to Outline

Meditation 3: God keeps it

Julian discerned three properties in her vision of the thing no bigger than a hazelnut representing all that is made: “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God keeps it.”

Read the following passages from the Bible and Julian. Sit quietly for several minutes meditating on what it means to believe that God ‘keeps’ what he has made and what he loves.  God holds all that is created in his hands and he is working his purpose out. God has a hold on you. And God’s hold on you is always stronger than your hold on God. What does it mean to believe that God keeps and preserves you? Carry that around in your heart for a day.

From the Bible:

  • I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
  • For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
  • If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

From Julian:

  • See, I am God. See, I am in all things. See, I do all things. See, I never remove my hands from my works, nor never will I without end. See, I guide all things toward the end that I ordain them for, before time began, with the same wisdom, and love with which I made them; how should anything be amiss? (3rd Revelation, p. 199)
  • God wishes us to know that he keeps us safe all the time, in sorrow and in joy; and sometimes a man is left to himself for the profit of his soul, although his sin is not always the cause. (7th Revelation, p. 205)
  • Because of the tender love which our good Lord has for all who will be saved, he comforts readily and sweetly, meaning this: It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. (13th Revelation, p. 225)
  • Our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I may make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well. (13th Revelation, p. 229)
  • The place that Jesus takes in our soul he will never depart from.  (14th Revelation, p. 287)
  • Enduring and marvelous is that love which cannot and will not be broken because of offences. (14th Revelation, p. 300)
  • It is his office to save us, it is his glory to do it, and it is his will that we know it; for he wants us to love him sweetly and trust in him meekly and greatly. And he revealed this in these gracious words: I protect you very safely. (14th Revelation, p. 302)

Meditation 2: God loves it

Julian discerned three properties in her vision of the thing no bigger than a hazelnut representing all that is made: “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God keeps it.”

Read the following passages from the Bible and Julian. Sit quietly for several minutes meditating on what it means to believe that God loves what he has made. God delights in everything in the universe – from supernovae to subatomic particles, from humpback whales to banana slugs. What does it mean to believe that God loves and delights in every single human being? What does it mean to believe that God loves and delights in you? God desires your good. Carry that around in your heart for a day.

From the Bible:

  • For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
  • But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
  • I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
  • But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  • God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  (1 John 4:9-11)

From Julian:

  • Then Jesus our good Lord said: If you are satisfied, I am satisfied. It is a joy, a bliss, an endless delight to me that ever I suffered my Passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I should suffer more. (9th Revelation, p. 216)
  • For we are his bliss, because he endlessly delights in us; and so with his grace shall we delight in him. (9th Revelation, p. 219)
  • Our good Lord said most joyfully: See how I love you, as if he had said, my darling, behold and see your Lord, your God, who is your creator and your endless joy; see your own brother, your savior; my child, behold and see what delight and bliss I have in your salvation, and for my love rejoice with me. (10th Revelation, p. 221)
  • Do you wish to know the Lord’s meaning in this? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why did he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this and you will never know different, without end. (15th  Revelation, p. 342)

Julian understands that God’s love is not simple affirmation, but also entails the promise of transformation:
  • He says: I shall completely break down in you your empty affections and your vicious pride, and then I shall gather you and make you meek and mild and holy through union with me. (13th Revelation, p. 227)

Back to Outline

Meditation 1: God made it

Julian discerned three properties in her vision of the thing no bigger than a hazelnut representing all that is made: “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God keeps it.”

Read the following passages from the Bible and Julian. Sit quietly for several minutes meditating on what it means to believe that God made the whole universe. That God made this fragile earth our island home with all its beauty and strangeness. That God declares it all very good. What does it mean to believe that God made you in the image of God’s own self? That therefore you along with every other person have infinite worth?  Carry that around in your heart for a day.

From the Bible:
  • So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."  . . . God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:27-31) 
  • When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8: 3-5)
  • I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. (Psalm 139: 14-16)
  • For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; (1 Timothy 4:4)
From Julian:
  • The blessed Trinity is always wholly pleased with all its work. (3rd Revelation, p. 19)
  • God rejoices in the creature and the creature in God, endlessly marveling, in which marveling he sees his God, his Lord, his Maker, so exalted, so great, and so good in comparison with him that the creature hardly seems anything to itself. But the brightness and clearness of truth and wisdom make him see and know that he is made for love, in which God endlessly protects him. (14th Revelation, p. 256)
  • Greatly ought we to rejoice that God dwells in our soul; and more greatly ought we to rejoice that our soul dwells in God. Our soul is created to be God’s dwelling place, and the dwelling of our souls is God, who is uncreated. It is a great understanding to see and know inwardly that God, who is our Creator, dwells in our soul, and it is a far greater understanding to see and know inwardly that our soul, which is created, dwells in God in substance, of which substance, though God, we are what we are. (14th Revelation, p. 285)
The Julian quotes are from Julian of Norwich: Showings (Classics of Western Spirituality).


Praying with Julian of Norwich and the Hazelnut

The Vision of a Little Thing the Quality of a Hazenut

I count Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) among my mentors in the faith. Her writing has made a deep impression on me. I have also found her a congenial companion in prayer. 
When she was 30 years old, Julian contracted a grave illness and came so near death they gave her last rites. At the end of her illness, she had several visions, or showings, that she understood to have come from God. She spent the next 20 years reflecting on these visions and writing down what she had learned from them. Perhaps, the most famous of those showings is this one:

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus, 'It is all that is made.' I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially “oned” to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.
This little thing which is created seemed to me as if it could have fallen into nothing because of its littleness. We need to have knowledge of this, so that we may delight in despising as nothing everything created, so as to love and have uncreated God. For this is the reason why our hearts and souls are not in perfect ease, because here we seek rest in this thing which is so little, in which there is no rest, and we do not know our God who is almighty, all wise and all good, for he is true rest. God wishes to be known, and it pleases him that we should rest in him; for everything which is beneath him is not sufficient for us. And this is the reason why no soul is at rest until it has despised as nothing all things which are created. When it by its will has become nothing for love, to have him who is everything, then is it able to receive spiritual rest. (1st Revelation)

Seeing the fragile thing in the palm of her hand, Julian wondered, “I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing.”

Julian had reason to wonder if the world she knew might fall into nothing. As a child she lived through the Black Death, the plague that decimated Europe from 1348 - 1351. Nearly half of the city of Norwich died in a three-year span! The resulting social and economic disruption are hard to fathom.

The plague returned, though less virulently, fifteen years later. Some have speculated that she might have been married and lost her husband and children in this later plague. 

Julian lived during the seemingly endless 'One Hundred Years War' between England and France.

In 1381, there was a major Peasants' Revolt resulting from years of injustice and unfair taxes.

The church was also in considerable disarray. In the year 1378, the Roman Catholic Church split in what came to be known as the Great Schism. For the next 68 years there were two popes (and for a short time, three!) claiming authority over the Catholic Church. This was bewildering and disillusioning to pious Christians.

And, as noted above, Julian had herself nearly died from serious illness.

Much of this sounds very contemporary. The world we know often seems chaotic, confusing, and tenuous with similar troubles. We, too, have reason to wonder if the world we know might fall into nothing.

And, often enough, our own lives seem so tenuous they might dissolve into nothing. It might be serious illness. It might be job or economic problems. It might be family or relationship difficulties. It might be doubts about faith or uncertainty about love or our competency or our worthiness.  It might be specific or it might be a vague unease. Whatever the cause – fear, anxiety, uncertainty – life can seem quite uncertain and our hold on it unsure. Our hold on God can seem tenuous and unsure. Our hold on ourselves can seem tenuous and uncertain.

In spite of her own suffering, and for all that the world around her seemed in disarray, Julian's writings, while distinctly not Pollyannish, are full of joy and hope in the light of God's love demonstrated in Jesus Christ. She found her ease, not in grasping and clinging to the ephemeral littleness of created reality, but in uniting herself to the abiding love and joy of the uncreated God. I have found in her an invaluable, inspiring, and edifying witness to the Good News.

What follows are three invitations to reflect on aspects of Julian's vision and a proposal for an experiment in prayer.

Meditation 1: God made it

Meditation 2: God loves it

Friday, May 4, 2012

Praying with & for the Departed?

In a previous post, we saw that even those who want to recapture the centrality of the hope of the resurrection of the body and the restoration of all things, still hold that we can expect that those who die while we await the Day of Lord and the 'redemption of our bodies'  (Romans 8) experience some conscious existence in God's presence, however incomplete. This has been the view of the vast majority of Christians through the ages.

What is the relationship between those who have died and those still living in the flesh? Does it make sense to pray for the dead? To ask the dead to pray for us?

Here are some thoughts from four Anglicans:

N. T. Wright:

"I see no reason why we should not pray for and with the dead and every reason why we should–not that they should get out of purgatory but that that they will be refreshed and filled with God's joy sand peace. Love passes into prayer; we still love them; why not hold them, in that love before God?

I do not, however, find in the New Testament or in the earliest Church fathers any suggestion that those at present in heaven or (if you prefer) paradise are actively engaged in praying for those of us in the present life. Nor do I find any suggestion that Christians who are still alive should pray to the saints to intercede to the Father on their behalf."
(Surprised by Hope, p. 172)

C. S. Lewis disagrees with Wright on asking for the prayers of the dead:

"There is clearly a theological defense for it; if you can ask for the prayers of the living, why should you not ask for the prayers of the dead? There is clearly also a great danger. In some popular practice we see it leading off into an infinitely silly picture of Heaven as an earthly court where applicants will be wise to pull the right wires, discover the best “channels,” and attach themselves to the most influential pressure groups. But I have nothing to do with all this. I am not thinking of adopting the practice myself; and who am I to judge the practice of others?

The consoling thing is that while Christendom is divided about the rationality, and even the lawfulness, of praying to the saints, we are all agreed about praying with them. “With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” One always accepted this ‘with’ theoretically. But it is quite different when one brings it into consciousness at an appropriate moment and wills the association of one’s own little twitter with the voices of the great saints and (we hope) of our own dear dead. They may drown some of its uglier qualities and set off any tiny value it has.

You may say that the distinction between the communion of the saints as I find it in that act and full-fledged prayer to saints is not, after all, very great."
(Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, p. 15-16)

John Polkinghorne:

"If the souls awaiting the final resurrection are held in the mind of God, as we have suggested, then ‘in the Lord’ there will surely be a mediated relationship between the living and the dead. One of the most natural ways in which to express this relationship will be through prayer. No doubt, those who are ‘in Christ’ are wholly within God’s loving care and protection, but we should not argue that this makes it unnecessary or inappropriate for us to pray for them. After all, the same is as true of those among the living who are committed to Christ, as it is of the departed. Many arguments alleged against praying for the dead seem, on the face of it, to apply equally to praying for the living."
(The God of Hope and the End of the World, p. 110)

Helen Oppenheimer: 

"Surely there is no need to assume such a fixity in Heaven that prayer for the dead is simply ruled out. People naturally pray for their nearest and dearest. And, if they find it still natural to go on praying for them when they have died, it is no less than cruel to require them to stop. Dead people are in God’s hands as they were when they were alive. God will do his best for them forever. We cannot improve upon what God will do. But, surely we may be allowed to associate ourselves with it, associate ourselves with that blessing. That is what it could mean to be human means of grace. Perhaps we might even find that we had been allowed to give some kind of particular flavor of our own to the limitless blessings of God. Prayer for the living is surely less puzzling seen in this way, and it seems quite promising to think like this of prayer for the dead, too.”

The Book of Common Prayer assumes prayers for the dead as part of our worship:

“We commend to your mercy all who have died; that your will for them may be fulfilled. And, we pray that we may share with all your saints in your eternal kingdom.”
(Prayers of the People, Form IV)

Father of all, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and, in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work in them the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 504)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Questions Re: Between Death & Resurrection

My friend, LaVonne, responded in a Facebook message to my last post, Between Death and Resurrection, with some questions. With her permission, I'm posting her queries and my response.

From LaVonne:

Just read your "Into the Expectation"

Good questions all. The church's tradition isn't necessarily founded on Scripture, of course. If the Genesis man became a living soul when the dust of the earth was animated by the breath of God, it seems odd that the living soul would continue minus the dust. Maybe we all return to God in a Hindu sense until the resurrection - all part of some oversoul that will re-individualize when we get our resurrection bodies.

As for praying to the dead - I don't see much harm in it; I just don't think many of the dead are listening. First, because only a few were assumed into heaven body and soul and so I'm guessing they're asleep. Second, because even if they're awake, what makes us think they're wanting to spend all their time reading emails from earth? Is that what you'd want to do until the Last Judgment mercifully intervenes? Me neither.

Oh, and then there's the possibility that some of the dead are spending their time in Purgatory or even Hell - are they conscious there too? And if not, will the poor sods in hell eventually get a resurrection body - splendid, glorious, imperishable, immortal - so God can watch them writhe and holler forever? Or will they never have to worry about their bodies again, which means they probably won't have to worry about consciousness either, which means they'll sleep through hell for all eternity?

And another question: let's say my body is messing me up. Maybe I have Alzheimer's, or maybe I'm in a coma. My brain is defective, so I am no longer entirely conscious. OK, then my brain just plain quits. I die. Why would consciousness suddenly return? Where has it been while I was comatose? Just wondering...

My Response:

These are all good points/questions. As I said in an earlier post, any 'answer' is necessarily speculative. We do well to hold anything we think or say about this (and much else about God) lightly and with humble circumspection - if not a sort of holy agnosticism. But, it does not seem adequate or edifying to simply shrug and say 'Who knows?' And we have been given hints and glimpses through scripture and tradition. So . . .
As for Genesis 2, I guess the counter question might be, 'Where does the breath that was me in all my peculiar particularity go when I die?' If I return to God in the Hindu sense, does God then recreate new individuals at the resurrection? Or will my particular personality be kept and cherished in God's memory until then? And if the latter, the question remains, 'Might that include some sort of consciousness?'
As for praying to or for the dead, that seems potentially not all that different from doing the same with the living. Being bombarded by bothersome emails while awaiting the Resurrection does not sound restful or pleasant -- kind of humorous, though. But, maybe it would not be onerous. Held in God's memory/presence, might we know and experience such communion and delight of love that an ongoing relationship with the living would be a joy? [This is the intended topic of my next post]
Purgatory: Perhaps it is all purgative between now and the Resurrection. I am a hopeful universalist, but if it is possible to finally and/or eternally refuse the invitation to the Party, I suspect the result is something more like Sheol or Gollum, self-isolated in a dark cave at the heart of the mountain, than a literal lake of fire or some other torture chamber where persons 'writhe and holler forever.' And I doubt God ever gives up even on those who hold out.
The fact is, our bodies - and particularly the mindful meat in our skulls - can be and are messed up - some more profoundly than others. That's why I think we need to emphasize that salvation includes healing as well as forgiveness. More particularly, my hope is that God does not forget who I am even if I have lost all sense of who I am. Or never had the chance to live into who I might have been. Or was so messed up from the get-go (profound mental illness or mental deficiency) that I never experienced anything like a whole personality. Our ultimate hope is in the resurrected wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and soul. I expect that whatever our existence is like between our deaths and the resurrection it will be even more of a foretaste of that wholeness than we have experienced by the grace of God in this life.