Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for June 21st, 2008

Must heaven wait? 9

Posted on June 21, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, June 22, 2008

SYDNEY — A friend told me about an interesting article he received from the Bishop of the Parramata Diocese, a shire in New South Wales, here in Australia. The Bishop was quoting a Vatican official as saying that the modern church does a lousy job at communicating what heaven is like to the faithful. He said the visions the church communicates about heaven are outdated, borne out of an agricultural era when life was hard, and so the utopian vision of heaven and its divine reward was pictured as sitting on a banquet table and indulging in good food and drink with the Lord. For those who toiled and worked slave wages, heaven was a place of plenty.

When you think about the imagery, this is hardly an unreachable aspiration in today’s world where one can experience sumptuous eating as often as one wants to, or can afford to, sans the Lord, of course.

To bring the discussion further, in response to the bigger question of how a vision of heaven can stimulate and inspire people to live good moral lives, the bishop posited the question, “Does heaven have an image problem?”

I find the bishop’s question as intriguing as it is stimulating and even entertaining. For sure, the metaphors that used to excite the faithful may have dramatically lost their appeal as times have changed. Except for farmers and those living in an agricultural base, the metaphors of vineyards and seeds may not excite too many people; many might even remain indifferent, simply because they cannot relate to the imagery.

There is also the cryptic image of St. Peter standing by the Pearly Gates with a big book where the names of the faithful are supposedly written, if we have been good. If we have not been on our best behavior, our names will not be found there and we do not get to enter heaven. Instead, we either go to some halfway house for some rehab called purgatory, or worse, if we have been really bad, we descend to hell where we will burn forever.

In the Muslim faith, there is much ado about the dozens of virgins that supposedly await someone who dies while performing Jihad. That’s the male heaven, I suppose. What’s the female heaven like?

In Hindu heaven, it is said that “there are many celestial gardens. Here sport persons of meritorious acts. Neither hunger nor thirst, nor heat, nor cold, neither grief nor fatigue, neither labor nor repentance, nor fear, nor anything that is disgusting and inauspicious; none of these is to be found in heaven. There is no old age either… Delightful fragrance is found everywhere.”

Every religious belief, I suppose, has its own take on what eternal life is like. The common thread that runs through them is that every heaven is expressed to some degree as a place or state where there is absence of pain and the onset and non-stop experience of pleasure in physical, sensual, psychological, spiritual and even sexual terms. It’s a materialist view, to be sure.

You begin to realize that a lot of what we are depriving ourselves of in the name of living good lives here on earth can actually be enjoyed without us having to die. So why does heaven have to wait? Because religion tells us that this is what it means to be moral. Why? I don’t know. To many, part of keeping to one’s faith is the unquestioning acceptance of that tenet.

One thing for sure, though, is that it is only through the limits of the human mind that we have imagined what heaven is like; and thus, we may all be way off the mark.

Nevertheless, while we are at it, let me wear my modern man’s thinking cap and imagine — in my stressed-out, burned-out, worried-sick-about-the future soul — what the divine end is all about and share with you the heavenly visions dancing in my head.

1) Heaven is a state where we can get as much good, healthy, healing sleep (complete with sweet dreams) as we can possibly want.

2) Heaven is where we feel no pain or discomfort whatsoever.

3) Heaven is a place where we have all the time and concentration and energy to be in every moment, enjoying what we do, whatever it is.

4) Heaven is a place where we are totally accepted as we are, and just as we are totally accepting of others, so are we by others.

5) Heaven is where we can have all the answers to the great questions of life, such as “Who am I?”; “What is the meaning of it all?”; and “Who is God?”

Throw in the answers to the lesser questions, like “Who really killed Ninoy?” “Did Bush actually win the US elections?” “Will Pops and Martin ever get back together again?” All these will be known. I just don’t know whether anyone in heaven will care to know the answers. The irony is, while everything unknown will be known, we will probably have lost our taste for petty concerns or even for judging others.

6) Heaven is where we experience unconditional love where we meet and radiate nothing but love. We will see everyone we have ever loved but will know how to love them perfectly this time. We will also discover that we will love everyone we meet there.

Love also means we are welcomed and accepted by God regardless of how we have lived our lives. What is “unconditional love” if not that? Anything else would be exceptions, stipulations, conditions or “fine print” and therefore not unconditional.

7) Heaven is where we can indulge in every known and still unknown sensual, physical, mental, spiritual, heavenly pleasure without any guilt whatsoever.

8) Heaven is where we experience ourselves in the biggest, most wonderful God-like way and where we realize we are One with everything and that there is nothing outside of the Oneness.

9) Heaven is where we are in a state of bliss, where we lose all identity of ourselves totally and thus have no need to worry or defend ourselves, or attack anything or anyone. It is the state where all causes, missions and injustices that used to attract, concern or arouse our attention have forever ceased.

10) Lastly, we will knock ourselves on the head when we realize that heaven is a place we may have already sensed and enjoyed but had forgotten while we were on earth. During our more awakened moments, we may have intuited and taken great joy at the wonder of a few waking seconds and thus discovered God’s little hiding places right in the center of our daily lives on earth.

By the same token, during our sleeping state, we may have, more often than not, discovered hell.

A wise Buddhist put it so well when he said, “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”

And so I ask, must heaven wait?

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