...I really have no idea. Sure, I've done the priestly/godly thing of reflecting on the life to come; and must confess that some notions of heaven are not all that appealing to me. Dante's journey into the divine habitations, led by his beloved Beatrice are wonderfully romantic but I am not too sure I am looking forward to his ideal of the faithful gathered throughout eternity just sitting and gazing at the Divine presence. Perhaps it is not tactile enough? I can say that Dante's visions of Hell and Purgatory strike me hard and in a much more concrete way. He KNOWS what hell is like, what is sounds like, smells like, feels like. It hits all the senses, HARD.
Heaven, well, that is a more ephemeral experience. In fact, in the end, words just fail. I wonder why?
Maybe because when it comes to suffering, we know exactly what it is and how it hits the senses. It is the smell of fear, sickness and death. Once it gets on your skin and works its way into your soul, it is there for good. Suffering, our own or an others', doesn't really wash off and it is now embedded in a memory that worms into the deepest parts of our brain. Even the senses are now tuned to its impact. That's a good thing, because as a living being you don't want to be in those dangerous places. When the alarm bells go off due to sight, smell, sound and touch we then know to run, to get out of that hellish place where bad things happen.
Funny, I can remember those terrible things quite clearly. I can call them to mind with little effort.
Heaven is harder to provoke.
It is there, that understanding of bliss, peace, grace all wrapped up around my being and all those whom I have loved or who have loved me gathered in memory or in person. It is there. For me, though, I find that I can't just conjure up the provocative elements of sensual reality that take me THERE. Not like hell. Hell, I can close my eyes and be there. Heaven is harder to conjure and perhaps that is best?
I find that I wind up discovering those moments of heaven as they happen to me. I am sitting with my wife, having lunch in the garden and the sun strikes my shoulder and reminds me of what it feels like to be warm, with no sense of any part of me exposed to discomfort. I am at peace and that sunbeam and being alone with my wife comforts me beyond words. Or, this morning I open up a new bottle of aftershave...a brand I haven't smelled since I woke up from a nap years ago on my grandfather's lap and had that scent fill my being with a feeling of being utterly safe, utterly protected, utterly loved.
It doesn't take much to feel heaven. For some, it is the sight of light tripping through stained glass in a quiet church. For others, it is the sound of children's laughter wafting from the street where a passionate game of stick ball is taking place. For others, it might just be the sensation of sheer silence, the kind of quiet that comes from empty spaces that were only just filled with chaos and tumult moments before.
For all of us, I am convinced, heaven is more than just a visual experience of SEEING God face to face. It is a whole being sensation.
Yesterday, the gospel reading was the story of the blind man on the road to Jericho who, hearing that Jesus is passing, refuses to be quiet and calls out for Jesus with such energy that the whole procession has to stop...Jesus himself goes to the man and after an exchange the man receives his sight. His faith has healed him and his reward is be able to see again. But, there must have been a moment when the man felt and sense Jesus with other senses, ones that had been magnified by his lack of sight. To smell, hear, feel our Lord-just inches away. What a gift! THAT is where the blind man's healing path truly began. Not with sight, but with the other senses firing off that the Lord was near, that healing was about to wash over him and through ALL his senses.
I confess that I get too wrapped up in seeing things come to pass, when it is the other senses that very often provide a stronger portal into certainty of time, place and relationship with God and my neighbors in Christ.
Heaven must smell very good indeed, eh?