Happy Summer, PDX!
This is that season that sneaks in under the cover of daylight and leaves us with less. Stealth season. That will make more sense come September 21. For now, enjoy.
I despise the term "pass away". If your dog gets hit by a car, it doesn't pass away. Away where? The dog dies. It flat dies! If your loved one or your kid or your spouse or your friend gets hit by a bullet or cancer or simply the accumulation of days, they die. And sometimes people simply die of a broken heart. My classmate and friend, Wes, who was KIA in Vietnam on 5 April 68 did not pass away. He died. And a few short years later his mother Helen, a strong mother of seven, died. I think primarily of a broken heart.
Back in March my friend Jack died. He didn't pass away. He didn't vanish forever from God's cosmos they way a piece of roadside litter seems to vanish from our world as we speed by at 70 MPH and leave it in the dust. There's a hole in the world where Jack was. But that doesn't mean there's a hole in the cosmos, a hole in the kingdom of God, only a part of which goes by the title of heaven.
What's heaven? In my life I've heard pretty insipid descriptions by preachers. And I've heard salivating descriptions from fervent believers whose mannerisms about many things give me the willies, send me running for cover rather than wanting to know more. As a kid I was frightened horribly by an old folk tale I once heard. Night after night I would pull the covers over my head, heart pounding, fearing that death would come out of the darkness and grab me in its cold, horrible, endless jaws. I shook myself to sleep many a night. Heaven on the other side of the horror of death, the heaven I had been given to understand, did not seem worth going through death in order to gain it.
Thirteen or more years ago I was taking one of my soul transfusions on a solo backpacking trip to South Sister in Central Oregon. I was thinking about my father's last years of life, riddled with Parkinson's disease and being engulfed by loss of mental functions that often put him somewhere else as chunks of his brain cells deteriorated. But one thing he was 'til the day he died: a farmer. It's what he was built to be and was very good at--although the stress of it in the form of weather and price fluctuations and weeds and aching bones gave him stomach ulcers and many anxious days and years of life, many sleepless nights.
Then it hit me, sitting there at my campsite. Why would God go to the trouble to make us all so unique, give us all vocations and interests and talents and gifts and burdens and family to live with--only to run us all through the blender of death and turn us into...what? A generic, plain label clone of sterility? Automatons who did nothing but stand around a throne and sing 24/7 eternally? Was God so ultra-needy and greedy that we had no eternal use to God except as an ever-growing chorus of praise machines? Was God the ultimate consumer of everything, even of people reborn to eternal life? That was heaven???
Or maybe not.
Maybe the God who went to such trouble for us and with us didn't take away all that made us who we are in the life he gave us. Maybe death was not a separation from our gifts and loves and talents. Maybe death was at last the fulfillment of these things. Maybe what gives God eternal and everlasting pleasure beyond measure is finally seeing his people for all that they can be, poured out for one another in amazing relationship of community and art and love and song. Maybe heaven is about ultimate enrichment of each other. Maybe heaven is about more than gold, silver, diamond and marble infrastructure.
"Maybe," I thought,"maybe Dad actually has a farm in heaven!" Maybe it was all he'd ever hoped and dreamed his earthly farm would be... and so much more. Maybe the cherries he remarked about one day looking out the kitchen window of his house in town were real. Maybe the cherry tree none of the rest of us were able to see was the one waiting for him on his farm. Maybe in his last days Dad could actually see heaven and we couldn't.
I wrote a poem titled "Imagining Heaven" right there on the spot. Knowing how the mountains of Oregon have saved my life, have been and are God's breath of life to me, I began to think how beautiful the mountains of heaven might be. Some days I can barely force myself to wait any longer to see the mountains and roma in them.
Imagining Heaven got written into the play I wrote in 1997 to honor my cousin Narvin, my friend Wes and my then surviving friend Jack--and so many others torn from life or burdened in life by the Vietnam War. In the play, a Vietnam vet and struggling Nebraska farmer, Randy, is slowly coming to terms with his life and his children after the tragic traffic accident that has taken the life of his wife Lisa, a lover of the piano. In one scene late in the story after a fun day of fishing at a nearby sandpit lake, Randy and his 10-year-old son David share a quiet moment of reflection on the sofa before David heads up to bed.
David asks, "Dad, has Mom got a piano in heaven?
A piano in heaven? Randy first reacts with incredulity because the concept is so far outside of the way heaven has ever been talked about in his church upbringing. And then the door of new understanding finally opens the way it did for me. Randy is opened to the possibility that heaven is the wild fulfillment of our gifts and uniqueness. It required the child's fresh take on things to open the door. And Randy replies, "Hmmm... You know, I bet she does have a piano. And she's writing new songs that she's waiting to play just for you."
David can't wait to hear the songs.
Heaven. Think about it. Think about it new. And here's the poem that started it all:
I cannot imagine heaven
Unless there are mountains in it.
Cannot imagine majesty beyond
jagged rock and snow against the sky
What sound would ever be heard
from quickened, mighty winds
unless they blew against the rocks and trees
That reach into the clouds?
If ever I am blessed, or someday glorified
If ever I am lifted to eternal life
Oh, please; oh, please, let there be mountains--
such places for the soul to soar!
For I could not imagine heaven
If mountains were no more.
Copyright by Roger D. Fuchs, all rights reserved.
Imagine heaven today.