Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Heaven on Earth

I was feeling so blissful tonight I needed to write about it. I have sharply disregarded the idea of "heaven on earth" for obvious reasons in my life: mistaking it for a result of religious discipline; mistaking my mania for the real thing; a generally pessimistic attitude towards this world ("The poor you have with you always"); a knowledge that human nature has not changed since the dawn of recorded history, and a belief that Christians must naturally go against the grain of the world to live their faith. I'm having second thoughts.

In Ephesians 2: 4-7, the Apostle Paul offers these words: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus."

In other words, we are already there: already seated, already resurrected, already saved. Believing this is a great tonic open to all, but it is difficult to grasp. It violates time, for one thing, not to mention the evidence of our eyes. But it is not smoke and mirrors. The foundation of Christian Faith teaches that heaven can be experienced here. It may only amount to a glimpse, Eliot's "timeless moment," but I think a prevailing attitude in accord with this tenet can be achieved as well, or better said, granted by grace.

I have written before about the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness can mean achievement, good luck, good genes, inborn optimism, relative security, even a good meal with friends. But it lacks the depth of joy, which for me is a near beatific response to having endured suffering and loss and transformed them into thanksgiving and wisdom. Joy gives me a deep ache in my heart, makes me draw a deep breath, acknowledges sorrow as much as rejoicing, cuts through to the primal foundation of being and whether that house is built on rock or sand, whether grounded in love or some imitation thereof like success or security. Joy grieves, sympathizes and rejoices. Happiness feels good about itself. Joy is humble; happiness may include a sense of deservedness. In all, the deep gratefulness that accompanies joy cannot be accounted for rationally; those who go there have made a choice, against the evidence of this world, aided by supernatural grace, to see through to the heart of the universe: the God of Love.

I'm not just a Christian, I also consider myself a bit of a Taoist and an Existentialist. Strange bedfellows, perhaps, but not in my mind. I like to think about The River of Life and how I am flowing in it today, and what impediments may face me in the current, and whether I need to negotiate rapids or falls. It is the same river, the living river, the river of karma and coincidence and kairos and salvation. Thus the Taoism; to go against the river is foolish, best to flow with it and try to avoid the stagnant pools and forks.

Are you in the River? Have you let go of yourself enough to rest in the current of Love? Do you think this is possible? Now I do. I have been so blessed in the last year, despite my trials, despite ECT and a serious motorcycle accident and all the rest. I feel good about myself. I like to say, "It's great to be me." And this is not a boast about who I am but what I think I may have discovered, that given the right attitude, some of us can live in present bliss much of the time, and that deep joy cannot be eroded by circumstance, however dire. Sure, we all fall out of the river at times and beach ourselves on shore, get tangled in weeds or circle down in a whirlpool, but that need not be our condition. Our condition, if I understand Paul, is glorious and we need to remember that.

You may say, "But that's only available to Christians." Maybe, but I don't think so. One spiritually attuned to the nature of the cosmos ought to come to the same conclusion, the eternality of love, and the necessity of dwelling in it as much as possible--also that that feeling, that empowerment, that revelation is founded in something more than the personal or historical, the transpersonal if you will. It must exceed yourself. It must dwarf your worldly concerns. It's something that shines so bright that Moses had to wear a veil when he came down off the mountain.

In addition to joy I also have happiness: being in love with Kathleen for ten years; the joy of our children and our new dog, with a minor nod to the cats; the beauty of the coast where we live; my recent unexpected success in having a book published; my recent run of writing some 20 songs in three weeks, many of them, I think, good; the pleasure of reading, of being able to concentrate; the fellowship of friends; and I could go on.

Beneath all this is a foundational layer of joy. It is free. It is by grace. If it is mythology, well, I have bet my life on it, and if it proves not to be true, I had a better life for believing it, but that's not why I believe it; I believe it because it is true, and joy is simply a by-product of the experience.

Here endeth the Epistle for the day,

Thine at 1 Kilobunny,



  1. Wow what a post! I'm delighted to hear about your book publication and other successes, but more so about your spiritual mindset. I've had a pretty tough year faith-wise but I'm beginning to see the light again at the end of a dark tunnel and this is a nice encouragement.

  2. Yes, Sorlil,

    My current state surprises me more than anyone. My New Year's wish was for things to stay as good as they are now, but sadly, that's too much to expect in this world. Yet to dwell in a better world while here is not impossible, although these mortal frames subject to depression and accidents can often color our outlook. I suppose a true saint might be able to sustain such an attitude during illness and what not, but for most of us there are just glimpses. As C. S. Lewis remarked, "How many mistake spirituality for a good digestion?" Good to hear you're seeing a hint of light--and, coincidentally, my new book is entitled "Unexpected Light"--I didn't think about this connection before.



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