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“Oh, for heaven’s sake!”  People often used this as an expletive where I grew up. I grew up in the midst of God fearing people who were very careful not to curse. The words “Gosh” and “Darn” were not even allowed. If you said “Son of a Gun!” you were in real trouble. But heaven, now you could call on heaven all you wanted to regardless of the tone of voice or your intent when you uttered those words an expletive or as a prayer.

In this area of the United States, twelve step meetings of all kinds are closed with the group standing, holding hands, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The first phrase they recite in unison is, “Our father who art in heaven.”  As you might have guessed by now, the theme of today’s blog is the concept of heaven and what it means.

I remember childhood Sunday School lessons painting visions of heaven as a place full of angels strumming harps as they stood on roads paved with gold surrounded by clouds. Perhaps I have always been a bit too mischievous, but I always found that concept of heaven boring. What would anyone want with gold in a place where every desire is fulfilled? You wouldn’t need it to buy anything, and it would be so common that I doubt golden jewelry would be a hot item. Even now when I contemplate an eternity spent in such surroundings I find myself thinking  eternity would be only one step above being stuck for eternity in an elevator listening to AT&T’s tinny Musak playing over and over again with the only respite being a pause of a few seconds before the same old dreary noise starts playing again.

Every Sunday in church we sing or recite in unison, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name ” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 362).  At those times I occasionally have a disheartening glimpse of myself surrounded by angels and Archangels singing the same words over and over again for all eternity while Christ just sits  at the “right hand of the Father” (p. 358).  Then, I find myself momentarily worried that I will eternally be thinking, “Is this all there is?” Of course, my next thought is usually along the lines of “if I keep thinking like this I may never find out.”

Okay, from here on, what I say is going to focus on clarifying my own concept of heaven. When I was about 12, a Methodist minister told me heaven was inside of us and when we say the Lord’s prayer we are asking for  heaven within us to be also “on earth.” That was when I first started thinking that perhaps heaven was not a place or physical destination after all.

Chittister (1999, In Search of Belief, p. 51) shares her belief in what heaven is with these words:  “‘The Kingdom of heaven is within you,’ Jesus taught. Life around me will not cease to be whatever it is, perhaps, but life within me always offers more. More depth of understanding. More of a sense of justice. More of kindness. More grasp of God. Heaven is nothing but fullness of life and union with God. If I do not burst into heaven here, make heaven here for me, for everyone, I sincerely doubt that I will find it anywhere else. This life as I have been given it is my beaker of God who is in everything, everyone, everywhere. ” Chittister clarifies that this concept of heaven motivates us to work at creating “heaven on earth” in the present moment  rather than using it as a carrot-on-a-stick type of reward to lull us into accepting things like poverty and injustice.

Enough about heaven. I can’t wait to hear about your ideas about heaven—as it exists within us, on earth, or as an end-point destination after death. Please comment. Thank you. May  God bless and keep you.

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