There is a new book hitting the shelves today, “one of those” books on the afterlife, this one written by a curious pastor. He interviewed over one thousand people who had near-death experiences to share, and the result was a compendium of common parts.
This one struck me, somehow, because while I don’t personally read those books or go to those movies, fearing a little too much subjectivity, with little or no chance to validate, what the pastor learned fits what I think Scripture reveals. I confess that I knee-jerk a bit when everybody’s talkin’ about someone else’s visit to heaven. If there is a life change for the subject, that registers; if there is no change for the hearer, what’s the point? But, interestingly …
One of the primary and commonly revealed remembrances that the pastor/author discovered was that there is often a period of some depression after returning to life. Why? Because all that was seen and heard and experienced in heaven was inexpressibly more real than all that we know here, and that intensity of truth, beauty, goodness, purpose, and unconditional love makes this life seem very shadowy and very unappealing for a season. That rings true for me.
Pastor John Burke even used an expression I’ve used before, that this life, compared with the next, must be rather like an infant’s trip through the birth canal. All the baby knows is that the familiar is no more, and he doesn’t even know to make that comparison. From darkness, relative stillness, from mere sensations to interaction, the birthing infant enters life. Although he was certainly just as alive and living before birth, time marks from the first breath of oxygen. I’ve always thought that heaven must be rather like that. A new life, a new time, a new atmosphere, and the old sloughed off. It served its purpose.
We cling to this life. It is so much and so often and sometimes so completely our all in all, but one thing is certain, it doesn’t last. If heaven is for real, and we believe it is because of the faith we have been given, it lasts, and lasts forever.
Here in Cor Unum Abbey, like the Carmelite nuns who dine in the Refectory with a human skull decorating the principle table, we are trying to accustom ourselves to living with an eternal perspective. As we succeed, day after day and inch by inch, even this birth canal becomes a more heavenly vessel. Not many of us have seen heaven, but we want it. It is critical that we keep ourselves from expecting this process to be heavenly, for it isn’t utopian and never will be, but we can be here, cognitively, with the One Who came down from heaven and has returned there, to the Father. That is ours. We can live obediently here, and just as the perfect will of God is the perfection of heaven, we can have that, too, and that is no paltry substitute.
The beauties, the glories, the sensations, the majesties, the surprises, the emotions, the revelations of heaven are in heaven, and we are of the earth, with a task before us, a progression toward new life. In this birthing, unlike the first, we are privileged to swim upstream, to know in part, to take part. Heaven we don’t have on earth, but we aren’t just here, anymore than an unborn infant is just and only in the womb. The One Whom heaven celebrates is with us, and we are seated with Him in heavenly places, spiritually. (Colossians 3:1,2) There are beauties, glories, sensations, majesties, surprises, emotions, and revelations with Him. I want them now, all I can have as I squeeze through this world.
I ask, Lord God, for a better determination to keep moving toward the realities of eternal life, for a more pure casting off of those things that are shadowy at best and sometimes toxic and deadly, selfish things, deceitful things. Thank You that in this womb and in this process, there is cognizance and hope, and I want to make the most of both.
Just as you told your disciples to get into the boat and cross to the other side, Your word to us is fixed. Heaven is our home, and we are bound for home. As the infant resides in a real person and on a real planet, no matter how dark and untold things are there, we too reside in Christ and He at Your right hand, Father. We are there in Him, and we will be born into life when we die. More, I pray, more heaven through more of my Lord. Less trying to change things and change others, and more trying to speak the language of heaven and emit its perfume. More love, less of everything loveless.
I believe this is what Your Son wants, and so I ask for it in His name. Amen.
Illustration: Dante and Beatrice observing the highest heaven, by Gustave Dore’.
Imagine Heaven, by John Burke