Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Heaven is Now

At every moment, something sacred is at stake. 
— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

On Christmas Day, my husband and I sat down with coffee and Christmas quiche to watch a foreign film. It is our annual tradition. This year's movie selection was the film Heima by Sigur Ros, given to me by my spiritual little brother, Chad. In the film, there is an urgency throughout to celebrate the origin and locale of a people with moments of intimacy through hope-filled song. Lush Icelandic landscapes are mixed with the stark beauty of its untouched nature while the band plays small concerts for their people in town halls, homes, backyards, fields and even an abandoned cavernous factory in their homeland. The soul soaring melodies interplay with faces, villages, vegetation, water and stone— the heavenliness of navigating the ordinary. Heima means home. 

I grew up with a option of home that was in stark contrast to my own. The notion comprised of one day having my own mansion where Jesus and I would live forever listening to heavenly choirs sing. It was supposed to be my goal, my reward for this life. I don't believe in this kind of afterlife anymore. The end goal is no longer the end for me. 

Afterlife, oh my God, what an awful word*
After all the breath and the dirt
And the fires that burn
And after all this time
And after all the ambulances go
And after all the hangers-on are done
Hanging on to the dead lights
Of the afterglow
I've gotta know
Can we work it out?
We scream and shout 'till we work it out
Can we just work it out?
Recently a friend of mine told me of the difficulty she was having with her family. Pulling away from her charismatic, pentecostal background, she has found a new home and a new calling in mainline, reformed denomination. She has also found the liberty think deeply about her faith. She has recovered the freedom to sip the forbidden fruit of wine that Jesus himself gave to his disciples. She is once again enamored with the elasticity of love and her devotion to God. Her immediate family has difficulty with this abandon. Some members have been quick in pinpointing flaws in her doctrine and trouble with what she allows to drink at her table, hanging onto their dogma and American Christian culture at the expense of scarce moments of family love. My heart went out to her. This happens too frequently within the Body of Christ. One person finds liberation and identity while others press love back into an inferior place by gripping tightly to passing bits of broken light.
Thomas Merton says that divisions tear at the union of the Body of Christ, and that this egotism dismembers His Body. They remain hidden from their unity in Him through this choice of the ego and this unity remains imprisoned until their love has been refined. My friend needed to hear what Merton said next:
As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with another, because this love is the resetting of the Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them…But love by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

At least in her pain over her family, she is united in the love that heals us all.

Afterlife, I think I saw what happens next
It was just a glimpse of you
Like looking through a window
Or a shallow sea
Could you see me?
And after all this time
It's like nothing else we used to know
After all the hangers-on are done
Hanging on to the dead lights
Of the afterglow
I've gotta know
Can we work it out?
There are so many things I don't believe anymore. My view of heaven has changed since I was a child. When I was a child, I spoke and ate like a child.  I can't tolerate the milk of my American Christian culture anymore. The dogma is too fear-filled to to swallow. Something more substantial is required of me now. To me, heaven is the perpetuation of the moment of being truly present, and the expanse we will feel inside forever because of so much love. This will go on and on and on and because of this life, there will never be such a thing as afterlife.  If I am truly present, present with the love that brought Christ to the cross, I can pull heaven into this moment and live in eternity now.

But you say
Oh, when love is gone
Where does it go?
And you say
Oh, when love is gone
Where does it go?
And where do we go?
Where do we go?
…And after this
Can it last another night?
After all the bad advice
Had nothing at all to do with life
Through our holding to dogma, language that perpetuates separation and contortions of doctrine through nationalism, Heaven begs the question, "Where are we with one another?" If all of the elasticity the love of heaven has for us is available to us now,  why do we chose to give each other Hell? Why do we paint each other into dark corners of exegesis and apostasy? Why do we keep love captive?
There always has been life. There will be no end to it. This is the afterlife right now. We can stretch love to wrap around our the brokenness and disconnection of our Body. 

We can let the eternity transform this present moment. Heaven is now.

Is this the afterlife?
It's just an afterlife, with you