Heaven is real. I’ve been there, and I hope to go again. Most likely, you’ve been to heaven as well. The thing about heaven is, as soon as you use a word to refer to it, the image slips away like vapor. In fact, by using the pronoun “it” and the adjective “there”, I’ve reduced the eternal into the ordinary, and now I find I am reflecting on a mere image in my mind, an image of a place, of a thing. Heaven, if it does exist, must be neither of these.
Thursday marked the nineteenth anniversary of the day my dad died. Those of the faith might say Dad is “in a better place”, that he is in some ethereal realm of unknown geography called heaven. And they might also say that when I die, I will be reunited with him in that place. I’ve never died before, so I can’t pretend to know what it will be like, but I’ve begun to understand that I don’t need to be dead in order to commiserate with someone who has passed on.
Dad used to smoke these little cigars called Muriel Coronella. He would buy them from the special counter in the grocery store, little five packs that cost a couple bucks per pack at the time. If I concentrate, I can still remember the sour smell of his cigars. It wasn’t a pleasant aroma, especially after it had time to marinate into his clothing for a long time. I imagine if I got my hands on a pack of those Coronellas today and lit one up, my dad might appear before my eyes, a smoky, resurrected ghost.
I decided to honor my dad’s memory with a smoke of my own on Thursday, but instead of a fifty cent cheapo, I put flame to a twelve dollar import. The cigar was delicious, but that’s not what took me to heaven during the hour I smoked it. It was something so mysterious and elusive, I have no way of properly describing it here. I can only say that for several moments, Dad was with me again.
Consider for a moment that our language has crippled us to the point that we cannot see what’s really going on. We assign names and titles to things that are not even things, and we squabble, sometimes even fight wars, over who’s imaginary title is better than who’s. Right now, I am listening to a song called “Tornado” by the incredible artist Jonsi. Picture a tornado. You see it as an object, but it isn’t an object at all, is it? A tornado is an event. It is a convergence of elements resulting in a great and terrible happening. Likewise, this song I’m hearing now is not a thing either, but more of a movement. I find music to be one of the most effective ways of glimpsing that elusive state of being we call heaven.
I stood there on a patch of gravel, cigar smoldering in hand, thinking of Dad, and I was suddenly aware that everything around me––the stones beneath my feet, the grass in the field, the mouse wandering amongst the weeds, even the abandoned car across the street––all these objects were not objects at all, but swarms of energy, interacting with one another. And I myself was energy, part of the same song, the same dance. I felt as though I could sink into the ground right there and somehow merge myself with the stones, but of course there was no need for that. We are all part of the same substance as it is.
We think of ourselves as people––that is, when we are thinking the best of ourselves. At worst, we think of ourselves as objects. But we are neither. We are like tornado. We are like song. We are part of each other and part of everything else born of creation, all that is and has ever been. That’s how my dad, nineteen years dead, can be here now.
Those of the non-faith are prone to say there is no heaven, that this is all there is. Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps this is all there is. But consider this is another word for heaven, another way of describing what we experience when we allow ourselves to forget all of our objectifications.
The Bible quotes Jesus as saying, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you”. Jesus even came up with an iconic prayer to try and help a person gain perspective on heaven––“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I always envisioned Jesus looking up at the sky when he prayed that prayer, but what if he wasn’t looking at the sky at all? What if he was looking at the stones beneath his feet, at the grass in the field, at the people around him? Perhaps that iconic prayer was his way of telling us, “Here is heaven. It’s right here, all around you.”