Sunday, May 26, 2013

More familiar than home (A theological hack imagines Heaven)

I got it. I got it. I finally got it. From this perspective it is hard to see how I could have missed it for so long. For my whole life, or what I thought was the entirety of my life. The answers, all of them, were right here in front of my face, but for whatever reason, they did not feel like answers. It was not that I did not have access to the answers all along, but instead, the answers were too great for me or I was too confused to know them for what they were. But now that I am here I see that the answers are here, ready for me to grab and taste and touch. Now that I am here I must learn these truths and understand them.

For so long I just didn’t know and never believed much was even knowable. But now I see clearly that all is knowable and always has been. Yes, I must pursue these answers.

What’s it like here? Well, one thing I can tell you is that the ringing in my ears has stopped. It is gone. I never realized how loud it was. I never realized how quiet life could be. What a relief. And yet, the ringing is not replaced by quiet, but rather the excited hum and buzz of masses of people anticipating something great. And yet, it doesn’t feel like masses of people. There is plenty of space in this city and no one is in a hurry. Yes, the ringing is gone and replaced with anticipation. I can hear it and see it and feel it – something great is going to happen.

What else did I notice here? That weight, that weight of ambiguity is absent. My God how heavy that was. What’s different? Oh, it is so clear to me now. There are no competing messages. This is a place absent of lies. Wow. There were so many lies. OK, I understand, when there are so many lies, truth can be difficult to see. It has always been right here, but the lies tried to look like truth. Now the lies are gone and the truth remains. THAT is why it is familiar here. I have always seen truth, but did not know to name it as such. I could never be completely sure of all truth, but now there is no other way to see it. I still have choice whether to believe this truth, but now the choice is so obvious.

What’s it like here? This is Heaven and there is no doubt about it. I feel relieved, safe and free.  But at the same time, it sure isn’t anything like what I thought it would be. No, it’s way better. However, naturally, I had some questions. Not that I was complaining, but I just wanted to know how I had gotten it so wrong in some of my expectations.

For example, there was always this part of Heaven that I sort of feared. It was the accounting of everything I had ever done wrong. And yet here I am in Heaven and no one asking me to explain anything. No one is explaining their sin. No one is groveling. I was so perplexed by this absence of this part of the Heaven experience that I asked about it.

“And where,” I asked someone, “where is the big video screen where I review all my sin?”

“Who told you that is what happens here? That’s what they do in Hell,” he said, “and you’re free to pay a visit there if you like, but don’t take too long, not much good happens there. There is a lot of explaining and justifying and arguing and, well, people can get really pathetic there. Hell is a sour and foul medicine that doesn’t work for an illness that doesn’t even exist.”

“Sin doesn’t exist?” I asked

“Either sin exists or Jesus exists, but not both.” 

“But I…”

“Shhhhhhhhh, believe me, Jesus exists,” he said.

That was all I was going to get out of him and he moved along pressing toward the greatly anticipated something – something that I still was not sure what it was.
I had another question about Heaven. I thought there would be all this singing of hymns. I didn’t hear any hymns. Where were they? Would we sing hymns at some point? Frankly, it wasn’t the part of Heaven I was looking forward to. I mean, Amazing Grace is, well, amazing, and Oh Thou Fount of Every Blessing is about as honest as it gets, and Just As I Am evokes a certain humility, but how was being in Heaven going to improve on what we already had going? And really, endless singing gets old, doesn’t i?. We had endless singing at the gospel meetings and Zoe Conferences, and well…

Anyway, instead of endless hymns, I heard waves of sounds of anticipation and excitement. Something great was about to happen. I did hear some songs, if hearing is what you want to call it. And what I heard certainly weren’t hymns. In fact, they weren’t even songs, really. They were like pure emotion that can be detected by all the senses. One person poured out the emotion of gratitude for being healed of AIDS. I could hear the feeling, but I could see it in full color and I could even smell it, like walking through a field of roses and honeysuckle, only way better.

Then there was another person, belting out her passion while playing guitar. The song had no words, only sounds, sounds so beautiful that I didn’t want to stop listening. I was terribly interested in what she was doing. The whole area had a bright orange glow to it with the smell of bread baking, a rich yeasty bread and my mouth watered. And then the meaning of the song came to me. She was no longer hungry and neither were her children. It was a song of praise, but not one that had even been written. It was being created as it was being performed. It was the perfect expression of her passion. It was a new song, a unique song, a song that only she could sing.

And then I recalled the church hymn, “They’ll sing in Heaven a New song.” I got it. It all came clear. We are not all singing one new song together, but rather each of us is singing a song so personal and so exact that no one else could even begin to sing it. It would not make sense performed, experienced, and expressed by anyone else. The singing in Heaven is not hymns written by other people, but rather it is the experience of expressing our deepest passions with no self-consciousness or shame. It is enjoying the privilege to really know someone else through their songs. It is the privilege of knowing everyone else for who they are.

In Heaven I am as me as I can get and that is the very thing that is desired. I am not coerced to be something I am not. I am not pressured to take on an agenda. I am not saddled with confused passions or inhibited by fear of judgment. I am me and that is best expressed in what I am calling a song for all the senses.

And then something else became clear to me. Everyone’s passion, though personal and pure was also in celebration and service of others or God or both. The person singing passionate gratitude for being AIDS-free highlighted everyone who walked with him through the shame and fear of the disease. The woman who had been hungry praised God for teaching her what it meant to want something more than anything else. It was the most honest and deep and beautiful redemption song. She understood the incomprehensible and thanked God for it.

And at that moment the songs of the masses began to swell. I could hear everyone’s song, see everyone’s song, taste and smell everyone’s song. I felt it all at once in my bones. Suddenly I was able to see everyone all at once. So many people. So many people that it could very well have been everyone. All singing. And the feeling of anticipation rose to such a height that I finally sang my song.

 And now I understood that my song was so perfectly me that I was not allowed to know it on my own. I could not know it on my own for being on my own isn’t being me – if that even makes any sense at all. Rather, I could only sing my song when God himself sang it through me. This added so much more meaning to being an image of God. I had always been an image of God in the world.  I am still in the world and I am still an image of God – but now without limits. God has ALWAYS desired to sing through me and now it is finally happening. I was finally doing what I was meant to do all along. Now I was singing something I felt like I had only fleeting glimpses of for so many decades. This was the greatly anticipated thing – that I, together with what seemed to be everyone, was finally freed to sing.

Heaven is not about going to a safe place to tell God how great he is. Rather, heaven is what God has been trying to do all along with me and everyone else – sing love into the world through us. The only difference is that we are no longer burdened with sorting out competing narratives.  Heaven, it appears, is Jesus singing through us expressing who he really is through the uniqueness of who we are and Hell is us trying to figure out who we are without Jesus.

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