Heaven is Within – November 12 2019

Heaven is Within – November 12 2019

The ”kingdom of Heaven” is a condition of the heart – not something that comes ”upon the earth” or ”after death.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

A friend of mine used to say, imagine the most beautiful spot you can. In a meadow, next to a burbling mountain stream, cool, soft grass to lie on, sweetly scented breeze, butterflies flitting through the grasses, the nearby peaks glistening in the sun, all of it as if nature had decided to give you the most ideal day imaginable, perfect in every way. Even at your most cynical, to be dropped into this paradise would take away your darkness immediately. You couldn’t help but fall in love with life, let go of every dark thought and every dark impulse, set aside every unresolved issue. In spite of yourself, you would have to relax and enjoy.

Got the image? Good. Now, imagine being there for eternity. Suddenly, what seemed like heaven has become a pretty good descriptor of hell.

A 2005 ABC poll found that 89% of Americans believed in heaven as a place one goes after death. This is a place where either one is without a body, or where one’s body is restored to a perfection it perhaps never approached during one’s life. This is a very Christian perspective, and yet this idea does not align at all with what Jesus says in the Bible. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come, the Jewish people of that expecting a Messiah who would bring his kingdom to the earth:

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:20-21

King James Bible

The Gospel According to Thomas is a First Century non-canonical text which was found in upper Egypt in 1945, one of the Gnostic Gospels, like Thomas, that were thought to have been destroyed as Christianity worked to define itself in the first centuries after the death of Jesus. Some scholars think it was written by those who actually knew Jesus, the Christ, as opposed to the authors of the four canonical gospels. In this text, the message of Jesus is even more clear:

Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside you and outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are poverty.”

The Gospel According to Thomas, verse 3,

quoted from Beyond Belief

by Elaine Pagels 

This is the Christian idea of heaven stated clearly by the central figure around which the religion was formed. Why then is it not a part of traditional mainstream thought and belief?

I think it has to do with suffering and the fact that no one knows what to do with it. Without an examined life, without a way to know oneself as something other than one’s thoughts and feelings, we are at the mercy of the mind. We are at the mercy of the speculation that leads to suffering and only suffering. When even the leaders of a religion are unable to relieve their own suffering, let alone the suffering of their congregants, they must come up with a vision of heaven that is somewhere else, because if it exists here and they can’t find it, what use are they to me? And if it doesn’t exist, why bother at all?

Heaven exists. It is, as Jesus says, ‘within you and outside you.’ And how do we find our way to this experience of heaven? In the next line he tells us: ‘When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father.’ By knowing ourselves. By going within and knowing ourselves. As we do in meditation.

This is our task: to sit in meditation, twice daily, in order to let go of the stresses that keep us from feeling and seeing paradise; and insisting, daily, that we find the way to love in spite of everything that tells us not to, that we find the way to enjoy no matter how much grief is in our life, that we find the way to open ourselves up to the experience of life more and more each day. Because if heaven is here, then it must include everything that’s here, so a good start would be to stop ignoring and start loving, everyone and everything, ourselves included. No matter what.

Today I will seek to love at least one person, perhaps from afar, whom I find it challenging to love; I will insist on at least one moment of enjoyment – of a fast car or a hummingbird or a baby’s smile or a good burger; and I will allow at least for the possibility of finding heaven on earth.

Stream, Fog, somewhere in Ireland