Is To Come
What thoughts/beliefs/questions do you have about heaven? Any images? Quotes? Hopes/fears? – Rev. Melissa Meyers, Facebook
Like a lot of people, I loved the TV series Lost. Unlike a lot of people, I thought the final season and final episode were among the most beautiful, poignant television ever produced. Just the thought that a group of people would find one another again to travel together to the next big mystery moved me to tears. This was, despite the fact I figured out what was going on about halfway through those last episodes. The challenge, as Hurley reminds us, is to be ready. Some are. Some aren’t.
I’ve always connected this presentation of an interim state after death to what some call “Summerland” (there’s a song by that name by Polish musician Mariusz Duda, using the band name “Lunatic Soul”; check it out). It’s often described as a place of peace, a place where the newly dead watch the living. Perhaps they confront the demons of their lives and defeat them once for all. Perhaps they learn to forgive themselves. Perhaps, like legends and stories of ghosts around the world tell us, they are just stuck, trapped in between time and space, an echo of emotions too strong to release.
Of all the mysteries, whether or not there is anything for us, individually or collectively, after death is one that has animated human beings since before there were human beings. Evidence from Neanderthal graves show our close cousins were no less willing to prepare bodies for . . . something. Fossilized pollen, tools, weapons, clothes – all have been found in Neanderthal tombs. Similarity to Homo sapien burial practices cannot be wished away. Clearly, ours is a species, if not perhaps a genus, that is burdened to wonder, to fear, and to hope.
For me – and this is, after all, an individual answer to a direct question – all I can say is, “Yes”, to all of it. Yes, it might well be there is just nothing. One last breath, let out completely, rattling the chest and vocal cords, then darkness and nothing. Many fear annihilation, as if it renders our lives meaningless. As we are the ones who create meaning, I see no reason to think our lives are of no consequence if afterward all that awaits us is utter silence. If one has lived well and loved well, isn’t that all that makes life meaningful?
I would also say, “Yes”, to the idea that some part of us lingers after our bodies have gone. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it just moves back and forth between states of matter, then energy, then back again. Our bodies, particularly our brains, are just big electrochemical engines, using energy, utilizing bioelectrical current to operate the brain. It is certainly possible that some excessive energy can become trapped, much as certain crystals can store energy and metals conducts energy. The residue, I would think, is probably pretty low. Most of the time, most of us are unaware of the presence of this tiny bit of residual energy that, if it exists at all, surrounds us. There might be moments we are aware – the flicker of a shadow, perhaps; a whispered sound in a quiet room – but most of the time the dead go about whatever it is they do unremarked and unremarkably.
I say “Yes” to heaven. Pearly gates, clouds, a gathering of friends and family reuniting our of mutual love. Silence, peace, quiet, rest, such a heaven is a place where we gather, all secrets laid bare, all slights and rages forgotten and forgiven, and the stillness of being, rather than the constant struggle of becoming, offers us a chance to experience what is in its totality without the veil of sense or thought.
Finally, I say “Yes” to the New Creation. At some point, all that is, most especially including death, will meet its final end. The dead and the living shall gather around the Throne of God. All creation shall bow, proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, Lord, the keeper of the keys of Hell and Death. Then, death shall be locked away, destroyed once for all. We, the living who will no longer die, shall feast not on flesh and blood, but the bounty of Divine Love that will flow in the four rivers from the throne. It will be not just a celebration but praise. Life and death as we know and understand them will cease to be. All there will be is the Throne, the Light from the Throne, and the Lamb who, having surrendered the keys to the Father, now joins with us and the Father to praise the goodness and love that will be ours forever.
All these “yes”‘s indicate less gullibility (or perhaps heterodoxy) than a willingness to entertain all possibilities because, let’s face it – we just don’t know. Beyond the Final Judgment and New Creation, what is to come is rarely a topic of Scriptural attention. It is to this life we are called, for this world we live and suffer and love, and in this world we are born, live, and die. Death, and whatever might or might not come after for the individual, is a part of this world, and we are subject to it until the final defeat of the grave. Reincarnation? While I wouldn’t bet on it, it might be interesting, if only we could retain the memory of at least one prior life. A sorry half-existence, much as the Greeks imagined Hades? Not precisely thought-warming, to be sure. A private place of one’s own, filled with the bliss of life without the threat of harm? That certainly sounds attractive.
All I know for sure is that, if we are God’s beloved children, no less in death than in life, God will be with us, loving us, and preparing in us the way to our true Final Destination, which isn’t the grave at all. Ours is, after all, the cross, the grave, and the skies.